One Love

Are you in a healthy relationship?

Growing up, no one explicitly talked to me about unhealthy relationships. I was fortunate to have parents that modeled healthy behavior, but was left to navigate relationships on my own. I had a good support system, however, my biggest enemy was me. I decided around puberty that I wasn’t outwardly lovable—I didn’t match what I saw on TV or in magazines and didn’t have boys knocking down my door, so drew the conclusion that what I believed was true, and rarely allowed myself to be open to relationships. If a guy liked me for me, well, I knew there was something wrong with him because how could somebody like me? It makes me sad when I reflect on this period of my life. Standing back and watching others in relationships gave me good insights into relationships I was interested in (e.g. hoping to have for myself one day), and those I wanted/needed to avoid. I can remember this served me well following college when I was more confident in my appearance and my inward love was starting to align with my outward. “Joe” pursued me after meeting me at a business outing. He was confident and blunt. He liked me and he made sure I knew it. He asked me out and I agreed though there was a red flag that was quietly being raised within. We agreed to meet at a restaurant but he called earlier in the day and insisted he pick he up. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with that and he persisted. I gave in. I regretted it immediately and started thinking of ways to get out of the date. Something was triggering inner alarm bells to get away. I was about to call him to cancel when he called me, and shared he’d been in an accident and we’d have to postpone our date. I felt like angels had taken over the situation. I was glad he was okay, but knew he wasn’t for he based on how he explained the accident—he cursed about this woman pulling out in front of him on his motorcycle and how he’d really wanted to take me on a joy ride. No. Nope. Bye Bye. I sighed with relief that the date hadn’t happened—he clearly didn’t know me nor I him. Confidence is great. Aggressive big red flag.

Now my boys are in their teens and navigating relationships—friendship and romantic. My youngest is fortunate enough to have the organization One Love Foundation (joinonelove.org) working with his school. It teaches its students about what consists (characteristics and traits) of a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. It allows the boys to better understand how their actions impact ours, and how to create and be part of healthy relationships. We’re talking to One Love Foundation about engaging with my older’s high school and look for him to benefit too. What a gift to learn something so important at such a pivotal age, right?

How are you modeling healthy relationships for your child? What are you teaching them to help them better navigates their future relationships?

Proud

When have you seen your child be proud of something they’ve accomplished?

My oldest is learning how to drive. Gulp. He is wired to be anxious in new settings and learning to drive has been no different. We started in a nearby church parking with lots of room so he could get a feel for the car. Learning simple things like wearing your seatbelt, using the gas and brake, and checking your surroundings. He was learning something new, and something that comes with great responsibility. He was nervous but willing to give it a try.

Starting and stopping. Knowing where to put your hands on the steering wheel and turning with crossing your arms were things he had to learn. The first lesson there was jerky motions, and “sorry, I’m sorry” when he did something not quite like he wanted to. It took me back to when I learned to drive. I remember my father teaching me how to first drive in a field, then on dirt and back roads. If he was ever nervous, he never let on. And I can remember thinking if he had confidence in me, maybe I should have confidence in myself.

In our state, you have to go to driving school in order to get your license if you’re under 18. Part of driving school includes driving time with an instructor. While I knew my son enjoyed the safety of practicing in the parking lot, it was time to get him on the road. I didn’t want his first time with the instructor to be his first time on the road.

I took him out and we started on a side street. I didn’t tell him where we were going, I just gave him instructions along the way. “Let’s take a left at this intersection.” “Turn your signal on.” “Go ahead and start braking.” “After you stop count to three before you go.” And so on. We were a few minutes in and he was doing fine but asked, “where’s a parking lot we can pull into.” I could tell he was uncomfortable that a busy intersection was coming up. Instead on pointing out the nearest parking lot, I said, “We’re not stopping. You’ve got this.” We proceeded to drive for a while longer. We went through another busy intersection. You could almost see his confidence grow and his anxiousness subside. At one point I told him he’d be driving us back to our house. “No way!” he said. His fear momentarily returned. Instead of going back home, I had him drive past our house and we drove for another ten minutes. I could see his confidence growing and took advantage of the opportunity to guide him back home and into the driveway. He put the car in park. Smiled, and exited the car.

When I met him inside he couldn’t wait to tell his dad what he’d just done. I told him what a good job he’d done. He was almost glowing, it was a wonderful feeling to know I contributed (even just by being there and believing in him and his abilities) even in a small way. He did all the work.

He went into his room and came back out after a few minutes. “Thanks, Mom,” he said. “I just needed you to know you can do it, and you did,” I said. “I’m proud of you.” He smiled and went back to his room.

We all need people to believe in us regardless of our age, but especially when we’re young. I thankful my father believed in me, and hope my son passes has a similar experience with his child one day. It’s a wonderful memory I’ll treasure.

My son has much more learning to do, and even though mistakes will be made it’s how he’ll grow and get better. And while I might feel proud, him being proud of himself is the greatest gift he can give himself.

What makes you proud? How are you helping build your child’s confidence in them self, and their abilities?

Showing Your Love

When I was a child, I took love for what I saw around me — in movies, kid/tween shows, saw in advertisements or read in books. As I grew I saw the disconnect between fiction (what I based on TV and books) and real life.

I learned that love doesn’t come in the form of diamonds or chocolate, though they can be nice gestures, but comes in real moments, vulnerable moments, when someone loves you just for being you and let’s you know it all of the time, not just on certain days or occasions.

I have tried to shortcut my sons journey in understanding what love truly is. I remind them that what they see on TV or internet is ENTERTAINMENT not real life (though yes, there are some exceptions), but to take what they’re watching with a grain of salt. Love is putting yourself out there, not pretending or portraying an image you think someone else wants. It’s just being you. Romantic love can be scary, but all other love is not because you decide singularly how to give and receive it.

This Valentines Day there is much that I love. My husband, my boys, my parents, siblings, and friends. A simple hug, a “love you” reply from one of my sons, and a friend checking in, are the gestures that mean the most. It’s true signs of caring and love. It’s the real treasure love provides.

What do you love? How are you helping your child understand what love is?

The Joy of Dinner

What is mealtime like for your family?

When the kids were young and in high chairs it was enjoyable — spooning food into their cute little mouths, watching them make a mess. Then they got older, pickier — mealtime became a struggle and could be exhausting. Now that they are more independent and starting to pull away (particularly the oldest) it can be a challenge to keep them at the dinner table — they eat, answer one or two questions mom or dad asks then exit as soon as they can. Ah t(w)eens!

My husband had a later-than-usual work call and my workday ended after I thought it would so dinner didn’t happen until right around the time the kids started proclaiming how hungry they were. We sat down to eat. My husband was still on his work call and I figured worst case I’d wait and eat with him. Something almost magical happened. My sons started eating, we were talking about our days and then we started to reminisce. I’m not quite sure what prompted us remembering old times, but I asked my son if he remembered his former youth soccer team going to a high school tournament game many years ago (their youth coach was also the coach of the high school team and had invited the kids to watch), and how they had poked fun at the soccer players that were flopping (in an attempt to get a red or yellow card for the other team). The boys were somewhere around 10 or 11 and when the opposing team would “flop” one of the boys would say loudly, “oh, does your boo-boo hurt? “ And another would chime in, “Do you need us to get your mommy?” Then the rest of his teammates would all start chiming in. The high schoolers heard them. The fans (high schoolers and parents) heard them, and no one said a thing. Seems the power dynamic worked in their favor as no one was going to go after these kids. It was humorous to see the kids doing this (I know that’s terrible but I was impressed with how they called out their older peers for faking it). In recalling this story my oldest started laughing. “Oh yea. That was hilarious.” I asked, “You’re the age now of the kids you and your teammates were giving a hard time to. How would you feel if it happened to you today?” “I’d probably think it was funny,” he shrugged. I’m not sure if he would find it as humorous, but the conversation had us talking and laughing well beyond our typical time at the dinner table. We were there so long, in fact, that my husband finished his call and was able to join us for a good period of time.

Oh the joy of dinner. It’s so hard to believe the nights where we’ll have dinner are so fleeting. Only a few years left before our oldest is off. Working to be present and really enjoying our time together whether it’s a ten minute or hours long meal at the table.

What is a favorite mealtime memory for you and your child? How are you finding joy at the dinner table?

Discord over Discord

If you have a tween or teen you’ve probably heard of Discord. For those unfamiliar, Discord is an application that allows friends to communicate while playing games online. My youngest asked if he could get an account for his last birthday. We agreed but with rules — he can only talk with people he knows, and if his father and I ever have any concerns, we can take privileges away.

During Covid my son has benefited greatly from being able to connect with his friends through online gaming. After getting a Discord account he was enjoying it on another level. While I’ve been reluctant to let my son get really into gaming, I was glad he had this outlet.

Discord has been a positive experience for my son for the most part. My son sighs loudly (to maybe get me it my husband’s attention?) when he’s frustrated or upset. He sighed like this and I asked him what was going on. He shared he was frustrated because one of his friends via Discord chat was blaming him for something he didn’t do. He was upset that he was falsely being accused, but more upset that his friend did it publicly to his friend group versus messaging him directly. He was struggling with the situation. I sat down next to him at the computer and asked him to walk me through what happened. I could see the dialogue in Discord and could see what my son was saying. What shocked me was what the friend wrote — Who changed me from being the moderator? f u [insert my son’s gaming name]. I saw how my son had replied online. It wasn’t me. I don’t know who it was. Reply from friend: well then who did it? My son: I don’t know but it’s not okay what you said. Friend: get over it. My son: uncool man, uncool.

I asked my son, “Why don’t you block him?” My son at first thought it might make the situation worse, but after we discussed, he determined blocking this “friend” would make his Discord/chatting with his friends way more enjoyable, so he blocked him and breathed a sigh of relief as his “friend’s” messages disappeared from his feed.

Afterwards, we discussed friendship and the fact that we don’t really know why his friend was acting the way he was or saying what he did, but that healthy relationships require respect and his friend needs to earn my son’s respect and trust back. I want my son to get comfortable holding firm on how he’ll allow himself to be treated by others. It’s not always easy, but so important.

How are you teaching your child about friendship and what a good friend is? How are you helping your child set boundaries around how they’ll let others treat them?

New Year New Choices

Is your child a healthy eater?

Our boys are opposites in many ways. Regarding eating, my oldest has been a pretty consistent eater throughout his life. Food hasn’t seemed to be something that dominates his thoughts, mood, etc. His teachers talked about healthy eating when he was in elementary school and it resonated with him. He started to be more conscientious of his choices and wanted to be healthy.

My youngest has had a different journey. He was a very picky eater when he was young. He’d go days at his daycare without eating if the food being served wasn’t to his liking due to taste or texture (a big thing for kids on the spectrum). We often worried about him putting on weight, but that changed around the second grade. He started expanding his food universe, but it gravitated towards processed foods. Mac and cheese, bread, bread and bread. 😊 We’d attempt to get him to eat healthier options and would get gagging (sometimes regurgitation – yuck!), or he would dig in and not eat. It was a struggle. My husband and I had set out to make one meal for the family and everyone eat the same thing, but we failed. Three of us would eat the same thing (for the most part), and my youngest wouldn’t. #parentfail

Over the years the divide has grown. Our oldest is uber healthy. My youngest is not, but he understands the importance of eating healthy and is working hard to make better good choices.

At the start of the New Year, my husband recommended we hold eat other accountable in make healthier choices starting with making sure we’re each incorporating a fruit or vegetable into eat meal. He created a chart that each of us have to fill out daily. There was resistance as first, but we’ve all grown to like the chart. Seeing what we’re eating, thinking about what else we can incorporate. And our youngest has really stepped up to the challenge — Expanding his food universe in the fruits and vegetables category. It’s a small step but feels like a bigger (more important one to my husband and I). #parentsuccess

How are you helping your child to develop a healthy lifestyle? What challenge(s) have you come up against and how have you solved for it?

Revenge

What game does your child like to play?

My youngest is into playing Minecraft with his friends. My son is always eager to get online with his friends, but has encountered some challenges. They play on a private server (one of the boys dad’s set it up for the kids) — I appreciate it because I know who he’s playing with. It gave my son comfort too, until he learned some of his friends weren’t playing ‘nice.’

My son would enter the game and find out that someone else had been in the game and had stolen some of his diamonds. I understand this game enough to be dangerous so forgive me if I don’t get all the details right. Essentially my son had to mine diamonds, which are desirable, and having them taken away, by a friend no less, didn’t feel good. The first time it happened he was angry and he let his peers know it. He has an awareness about his feelings and how others impact him that puts me in awe. I didn’t have his level of awareness until my 30s. He let his friends know how he felt and why he felt the way he did.

It was interesting to hear the reactions — mind you I was in another room but within ear distance. First, there was denial by the group, then one tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. My son held firm. His emotion was changing from anger to sadness — he was disappointed any friend would do this, and worse, lie about it. Someone just admitting they had done it would have been much easier for him to deal with. He calmed himself but he was rattled.

He had more gaming time with his friends without issue, but eventually there was another incident—this time he’d asked the group to wait for him to start the game because they were going to get to the end together, but when he logged on, he found they had already reached the end, though they tried to pretend they hadn’t (again, I’m not super familiar with how that works, but my older son confirmed this is possible). My son was very upset. I could hear him telling his friends, “you’re lying,” over and over. The friends changed their story and all but admitted their guilt. Again if his friends had just fessed up, he could have handled it much better.

We had a long conversation about friendship over dinner as a family. My older son, who isn’t overly protective of his brother, wanted to get revenge. “Let’s go in and put dynamite under their (Minecraft) house and blow it up!” he suggested. We all agreed that wasn’t the answer. Instead we talked about what being a good friend is, and how it can be hard when you’re young, especially when you’re going through puberty, trying to figure out who you are, and trying to fit it. It can make you do things that don’t necessarily align with who you truly are, or the friend you want to be. That’s one of the gifts my son benefits from by having autism. He is who he is all the time. He doesn’t have the awareness or ability to manipulate who he is for any given situation. His friends (true friends) will benefit from this as they’ll never have to worry about him treating them any differently regardless the situation.

We decided awareness (open eyes of what his friends were doing), and speaking his truth going forward are his best weapons. He’ll have to make some determinations if his buddies are really friends, he’ll never have to question his motives or behavior, and that is much more satisfying than revenge.

Has your child been hurt by a friend? How did you help them work through it?

Upsetting

How did you learn about what happened at our nation’s capitol this week?

I was on a call with others when someone shared what was happening. A family member called soon after confirming the news. I was hopeful with my boys remote learning they wouldn’t hear about what was happening until after it was over.

Of course, news of what was going on spread amongst the students. I was glad my husband and I were both home so we could have an open discussion with our sons about it. My youngest was more outwardly impacted by what he saw than his older brother. “It’s scary,” he said. I agreed. It was upsetting. Not only because of what happened but by the adults that perpetrated it. Kids (teens included) look to adults for how to act in different situations, and model the behavior they see. The adults who instigated this, and participated in it, failed our young greatly.

The damage is done, and I can only hope that parents, caring adults, mentors, teachers and leaders are who our kids will look to and model themselves after. I hope the young can see right from wrong and don’t believe violence is the way to make any positive change.

It’s upsetting.

How are you and your family dealing with what happened?

The Nutcracker and a New Year

What has reminded you most of the holidays being different this year?

Not being able to be with family and friends really struck home during Thanksgiving. Turning on the TV this past week and seeing The Nutcracker performed, really drove it home for me for Christmas. I was ready for no parties, or gatherings. I was ready not to go to any shows, movies or ballets. But seeing The Nutcracker on a local station being performed by our local ballet company solidified how different things are.

My youngest son joined me to see The Nutcracker at our local theater a few years back. Being there in person, hearing the music and feeling the vibrations from the orchestra as they play, watching talented dancers of all ages perform, and the excitement and gratitude the crowd felt just to be there appeared universal by all in attendance. It was special. Yet, sitting here in my home, seeing the ballet felt equally special. I didn’t have to go out into public, risk exposure to the virus to see a performance that can bring such joy.

I attempted to get my boys to join me to watch the performance. My youngest was playing Minecraft with friends online. My other on the phone with a friend. Ah, teens. It didn’t really matter. I lowered the lights to mimic the theatre and sat back. I could imagine being there in person with my family beside me. It was a mixture of nostalgia for what was, and hope for what can be — seeing the ballet live again one day soon.

This year has been one that required awareness, guidance, patience, reflection, support, community, and love to make it through. While a hard year, it was a year of growth for our family, and I’m guessing for many of yours. I look forward to how 2021 will be different. How we grow together. I’d say ‘go back to normal’ but my sense is even that will have changed. I look forward most to reconnecting, and being able to hug others again. I do so look forward to the New Year.

What is bringing you and your family joy this holiday season? What are you most looking forward to in the New Year?

I will be off the next few weeks to enjoy time with family and will be back in January.

Trim the Tree

How are you decorating for the holidays?

I have to admit I haven’t done much decorating this year. I like to decorate for the fall holidays mainly, but just haven’t seen the point or been in the mood, and my kids haven’t seemed to mind, so no decorations for Halloween or Thanksgiving this year. Christmas though felt like I needed to make an effort, though a part of me asked why?

It dawned on me that the holidays were upon us when my youngest asked when we’d get our tree. I realized Christmas was only two weeks away. When did time start going fast again? We decided it was now or never, so we got a tree.

Next I must confess that there are two parts of a Christmas tree I’m not a big fan of — getting it in the stand and hanging the lights. The end result is always worth it. It helps that my boys actually like putting the ornaments on — this year they even coordinated when to put the ornaments on the tree, knowing I’d want to snap some pictures of them in the action. 😊

I don’t plan to get more decorations out (besides the stockings) unless the kids really want us to. Since holiday gatherings are off, we’re really just decorating for ourselves, and trimming the tree is enough for me.

What decorations are you putting out this year? What decoration(s) does your kid enjoy the most?