Sunday, September 4, 2011

He's Teaching Me Patience

Raising two boys I knew I would eventually have to move from toy trucks to teen tantrums, but I still had a few years not to think or worry about it. So I thought.

My oldest son is only 8, and we're still battling the terrible twos with the little guy. Those of you who know me well already know that my world seriously changed about three months ago. That's when my teenage cousin moved in with us.

We grew to a party of five overnight and my husband and I have struggled to teach discipline to a child someone else has molded. A man-child that is. I failed to mention he is 18-years-old, but suffered a brain injury just over a year ago.

So he has the hormones and temperament, at times, of a teen boy, but the mind of a much younger child when it comes to most things. The story behind how he came to live with us is a long one. Here's the abbreviated version: His mother, my aunt, is an alcoholic who can't take care of herself. His father lives in another country. My grandmother had custody of him for years, but is now physically and mentally unable to care for him.

My heart has always gone out to the broken boy, who always struggled to fit in, sometimes with the wrong crowd. I think back to the little boy who always had a smile on his face, a question to ask, and time to stop and skip rocks. The little boy who served as ring bearer in my wedding, nearly running down the aisle, never looking anywhere but straight ahead for fear he'd make a mistake.

He spent last year in transition, living with a family friend of our grandmother's. He never really felt like he fit in. One day he had a bleed in his brain, caused by a birth defect no one knew he had. We're told he was lucky to have survived. He had to learn to walk and talk again.

Only God understands why this young boy has had to go through so much in his short life, and God has a purpose for his life. I only hope our family can help him on his journey to find it.

He has come a long way in the short time he's lived with us. The first couple weeks were very challenging. The first day he wore all black from head to toe, with a t-shirt that was not appropriate to wear in public. He spent most of his time playing violent video games and the guns, slogans, and half dressed women from those games were displayed proudly on his clothing.

He had never done a chore, again he's 18! Our grandmother had always waited on him hand and foot. He was shocked that we expected our 8-year-old to clean up his room, and put his dirty clothes away. He's teaching me patience.

I honestly wasn't sure I could do it. I don't know how to be mom to an 18-year-old with special needs. I still have my doubts, but I'm determined to leave a mark on his life, hopefully a positive one.

After much debate, the offensive clothing was moved out of his closet and into a box (only I know it's hiding place), hopefully never to see the light of day again. Slowly we've re-built him a wardrobe of shirts, shoes and pants in at least 4 colors other than black. That's real progress in my book.

He has simple daily chores like emptying the dishwasher, wiping down counter tops and making his bed. Once a week he vacuums his room. He told me last week thank you. It warmed my heart. Then, this morning he threw his wet towels on the bathroom floor and grumbled when I said, "I know you don't think those belong there." He's teaching me patience.

He gets irritable whenever I don't cook dinner when and how he likes, when we eat in instead of out, when the 2-year-old cries, or the 8-year-old behaves like a know it all. He follows my husband around like a shadow, asks the same questions over and over, and sneaks up behind me and scares me out of my wits at least a couple times a week. He's teaching me PATIENCE.

On the positive side, when I tell him to do something he does it, eventually. He has a big, soft heart for animals, kids and the elderly. When I was sick with a migraine, my husband and children steered clear, but he checked on me often and asked if he could bring me anything. He thanked us for taking him on his first vacation in years, and the smile he wore the whole week made us all feel blessed. He loves our dog and she is very fond of him, wagging her tail when he walks into the room. He is very sensitive to others feelings. He plays guitar and showed incredible patience when helping our 8-year-old practice his beginning guitar lessons.

My family is blessed, and I pray we can be a blessing to him. I thought I would be doing all the teaching, but it seems I have a lot still to learn from him. Dear Lord: I pray you help us along this journey, show us the right path to follow, and help us all practice patience as we travel.

We don't know how long my cousin will be in our daily lives, but we hope to help him find the life skills he needs to one day survive and thrive on his own. We hope to help him finally feel like he's part of a family, and to learn to accept our differences, and help each other be the best we can be.

It pains me to write this update, something I have been avoiding. My cousin left our house very abruptly about a month ago, only 4 months after he moved in. We had an incident that left us no choice but to remove him from our home for the safety of our own children.

Briefly: a minor disagreement, which began with him upset that my 2 year old was fussy, sent him into a rage and he attacked me in our front yard. My husband had to pull him off of me, and made a decision right then that he could not trust him, and could not be certain his family would be safe under the same roof.

As much as my heart still hurts for this boy would does not have the capacity to understand what he was offered, and that we truly wanted to help him, I know my husband made the right decision. I never second guessed it. 

I worry and don't know what will become of him, but I will keep him in my prayers and ask God to intervene.


  1. You are doing a wonderful job Erica, gives me hope for our family. I am thinking Mamma is very proud of you.

  2. Erika,

    This is wonderful! I am so proud of you. May God richly bless you and Kevin for doing this. I'm sure it is not easy but Cruz is in the best possible place he can be. I know he feels loved there and a part of something he has missed out on-a real family that has his best interest at heart. I love you more than you will ever know.
    Aunt Patty

  3. I knew that things had changed for you,and I could only imagine the challenge of caring for 3 boys...but you seem to be doing it very well and I know that God is using you to help this young man, and to raise your own children with Christian love. You have always been an amazing person, and an amazing mom--and you are just further proving that. Prayers for you and ALL of your boys as you continue to transition and move ahead on this journey of the heart.