You could have heard a pin drop when the sonogram lady (I am sure there is a fancy title for her Sonographer? Sonoriffic? I don’t know) typed three little letters across the screen. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know this baby didn’t have three legs, we were having a B-O-Y.
Yeah Lord….I was already freaking out about having babies back to back but a BOY???? What do I do with a boy? I fancied myself a mom of multiple girls. I’m so sad to say I cried after we found out. Not tears of joy but sad, bitter tears. Oh how I let satan steal my joy that day.
Fast forward to May 3rd, 2008. The doctor said “Reach down and pull out your son” and I did. One MASSIVE, adorable bouncing baby boy was pulled up on my chest all slimy and gooey and I didn’t care. I WAS IN LOVE. One look at those big brown peepers sealed the deal. Any fear I had about having a son was gone in an instant. That is not an exaggeration. I loved this beautiful boy from moment one. Bennett Wade Portnoy burst into the scene and into my heart.
For the first 8 months I was convinced I had birthed a sugar cube. He was an angel baby, all smiles and sweetness. My one complaint was he was a barracuda nurser and until the day we stopped nursing I had scabs where you don’t want to have scabs. That memory hasn’t faded. I’m sure my “nibbles” (as Chloe calls them) wept in my sad, gray lifeless nursing bra at night while I slept. It was the worst of times…It was the worst of times. At least for nursing. Other than that…this kid was top shelf, GOLD!
I distinctly saw a shift in my journal entries at 8 months when Bennett got mobile. A little thing called “will” began to emerge and his halo quickly turned into two little horns. Not all the time at first, no no no….he didn’t change the game quite yet it was more of a little toot on the horn of Bennett making way for the STEAM ROLLER that was going to release at about 18 months old.
We had done bore ourself a quarter mule, a quarter tea pot at full boil, a quarter cry baby, and a quarter sweet boy all rolled in to one.
Now let me stop and say THIS IS NOT A PARENTING BLOG. I am not giving you advice, I have not figured anything out, your child may be similar to Bennett but let me assure you…God made them unique so please read our journey and skim the cream and hopefully a few good laughs, encouragement and anecdotes while you are at it. This has been a LONG, hard almost 6 years but it is SO worth it for I am not the same mom I was six years ago. Like a knife on a sandstone rock, Bennett has both worn me down and sharpened me. I’m so glad God gave him to our family.
So Bennett had a few distinct “calling cards” in his toddler years. Hitting….Screaming….did I mention Hitting? He had an iron clad will, was easily offended (like don’t look at him wrong) and was a massive over-reactor. Everywhere I went I brought an emotional time bomb that WOULD and DID go off from sun up to sun down. These emotions were not fleeting either, he liked to marinate in his sadness or anger or offense. One never knew when one would be free from his emotional prison. We are so blessed to have so many “safe” friends that loved Bennett despite him being King Turd and whacking their kids all the time for no reason. You have to have safe friends.
Now I don’t want to be unfair to Bennett. His bad is certainly bad but oh man…his good IS SOOOOOOOO GOOD!!! He is by nature a “pendulum”. When he swings low he takes us all with him but when he swings high….well you can’t imagine a more sweet child. He is SO tender, compassionate, thoughtful, empathetic, spiritually sensitive, a BUNDLE OF FUN, massively athletic and coordinated, has a great work ethic and super affectionate. This has saved me from murdering him or giving him away on many occasions. Out of all my kids I actually get Bennett the most. I get passion and even though I was a very self controlled and calm child I get the ups and downs he “feels”. It resonates with my adult self. We say all the time if Bennett pushes all his chips in for Jesus then watch out…HE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD FOR CHRIST!! His name translates to “Blessing to go forth” You have no idea how much I’ve wept over the power of his name and begged God to make this his destiny. I believe He will.
I mean look at this kid!! What a doll!!!
It’s not easy to parent. Even compliant children come with a different set of rules you must learn. When you have a child that is in a constant emotional frenzy you are forced to rise up and tame the colt. EVERY.SINGLE.EXHAUSTING.TIME. You simply can not give an inch. What Bennett didn’t bargain for is that he would get a very stubborn mom and I don’t back down (ask poor Ryan) but also a very empathetic mom.
Those moments when I’m literally pleading with him, “Bennett make the right choice” and I see him go face first into the wrong choice and I want to scream or face palm myself because my child’s heart sadly hit the buzzer before his head could think. I found myself pitying him many times over pitying myself. The compulsion of emotions seemed to win over reason 9 out of 10 times. Like a giant bully stealing his money EVERY day Bennett seemed trapped in a cycle of emotional fail. This bounced the ball back in my court to be consistent with discipline which is mind numbingly difficult. You have to have a strong resolve and many times my stubbornness was the only gas in my tank of parenting.
It isn’t until we look back that we see that indeed we are not on “a treadmill in the fog”. Lots of effort, seemingly going nowhere. When I look back to Bennett at age 2, then 3, then 4, I can tell we are actually moving this freighter forward and by golly…even dropping off some emotional baggage into the sea. The progress is slow and he likes to go back to Egypt on occasion (don’t we all!) but chugga chugga chugga chugga…we are moving forward as a family. God is doing something deep in him, hallelujah!
There isn’t enough space to write the laundry list of things we’ve tried so no need to comment with suggestions. We’ve ignored bad behavior, spanked, separated from peers, taken away privileges and toys, left him home from outtings, used timers, incentive charts, and allowance. Recently we have found a TRUE punishment and that’s writing lines. HE HATES IT!!!!! WE LOVE that we finally have some leverage. Some things worked for a little bit but nothing changed his heart.
Truly, the most effective thing we’ve done is pray with him and give him a vocabulary for communicating with us. We talk about the fruits of the spirit and help him identify what fruit he was lacking and how to go before the Father who gives all spiritual gifts and ask him for more self control or more kindness or patience, etc… WE’ve memorized scripture on obedience and self control. We teach him about God’s character and how he is the GREAT RESCUER. Don’t we all need to remember we can be rescued from any and all situations of sin? We’ve held him when we wanted to ring his neck and we’ve cried in front of him so that he understood grief and sorrow over his choices. I’ve also had to humbly apologize to him many times for losing my temper and he has apologized countless times to me…unprompted. The bottom line is…we can’t control him. The quicker I came to that realization the better I was as a mom. Only God can change the heart, we are merely the rudder pointing him to Jesus. It is much bigger than nit-picking each individual situation of disobedience and punishing each offense. I’ve had to learn a lot about mercy and grace.
We sent Bennett to half day private pre-school last year. He did exceptionally well academically but it was apparent over the school year that he still was VERY emotionally behind his peers. He was a distraction often in the classroom and would get obstinent with his teacher. It’s heart breaking to get a call that your four year old is in the principals office. Something had to change. I didn’t want him thinking he was a bad kid or for him to resent school. Over the summer Ryan and I had to have lots of hard talks about if Bennett was truly ready to go to full time kindergarten. We also knew we were making the jump to public school now that we lived so far out. Two great unknowns.
A great majority of my friends homeschool and we live in a part of the country where it is VERY acceptable and not seen as something weirdos do, unlike where I great up in NY. Some of the best kids we know are homeschooled so I have a very positive taste in my mouth about it. The thing about homeschooling is it takes the mom to be the teacher. Ironically, I was a special ed teacher before having children but this was very different from what I knew homeschool to be.
It was an AGONIZING summer over what to do with Bennett. We told him early on in the summer that we were not sure he would be going to “big school” next year because of his behavior. I’m going to be honest, I felt sick inside at the thought of teaching Bennett and having a toddler around at the same time. I know who I am and I know who I am not. I have friends who are incredible with this age and stage of life and are thriving homeschool moms. I also have other women in my life that their homes are chaos, they are stressed, overwhelmed, resentful but are so committed to the principle of homeschooling that they are willing to sacrifice themselves, not in a righteous way but in a martyr way, on the altar of homeschool. I ain’t a martyr.
I am not here to debate homeschool verses public school verses private school. I am a huge believer in all three avenues because I believe every child is different. There are pros and cons to each. We have always been “wait and see” kind of parents as far as what works for one kid, might not for another and we need to be discerning year to year what is best for EACH child.
I can say I identify so much with the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord when it came to the decision of what to do with Bennett. God speaks through my gut. For those of you like me, you understand that statement. I knew back in June that Bennett needed to stay home and be homeschooled but I was terrified of what that required of me and I resented having to make the decision. I tried to deny my gut.
We’ve had babies since the first year we were married. This 2013/2014 school year was the first time I saw a little breathing space ahead. Just Rhett all day. One child home after three is a cake walk. I had dreams and desires of things I hadn’t done in years like sewing and painting and decorating. Finally working out and creating a new rhythm. These were not selfish thoughts. I love my children and know what a priviledge it’s been to be a stay at home mom. Those baby/toddler years require you to be full on, 24 hours a day. One can’t survive at that pace forever. There was a part of me that needed to submit to the Lord on behalf of Bennett’s emotional well being or I, like Jacob, might have my hip wrenched out of place and walk with a reminder for the rest of my life of what I should have done. Disobedience comes with a great cost.
The first week of August we told Bennett he would not be going to kindergarten but would be homeschooled instead. You ever broken your child’s heart but knew you were doing the right thing before the Lord? It’s a hard one to swallow. He cried bitter tears and I cried too. I didn’t want to homeschool and he didn’t want to be homeschooled. What a pair we were heading into the school year. What a journey we were reluctantly saying “Yes” to.
This post is long enough. I will talk about homeschool experience in the next post.