Advent Calendar

What are you most looking forward to today? Or tomorrow?

Often we move through life without noticing anything in particular we’re looking forward to. While most look forward to the holidays, perhaps gifts, and seeing friends and family, coming across an advent calendar reminded me of the smaller, but needed joys, we have access to daily.

When my boys were young I stumbled across Lego advent calendars. I recalled the joy I had as a child opening a simple paper door awaiting to see the picture inside. Now Lego was making them? I couldn’t resist getting them for my boys. Each advent calendar had a different theme (one city, one movie). Behind each door revealed a small surprise — a simple-to-put-together object such as a tree or mini figure. Every morning my boys would rush to the table eager to find what would be revealed that day.

It reminded me of unseen joy that might lay ahead. How life doesn’t give us physical advent calendars for the entire year, but they are there if we allow ourselves to see them, and figuratively (and sometimes literally) open the door. Meeting a new friend, noticing beauty in nature, sharing time with a pet, are a few examples of things that can happen for any of us any day. It’s just seeing the “door” and allowing yourself the opportunity to find the joy.

My boys are too old for advent calendars now, or so they tell me, but they’re not too old to find something to look forward to every day — whether it’s in the form of gratitude, anticipation, or the unknown. Each day there is an opportunity for us to “open” the door with anticipation and looking forward to. The “prize” might not reveal itself right away, but I’m betting with some reflection the “gift” of the day will ultimately reveal itself.

How do you approach each new day? How are you helping your child see the ‘gifts’ around them?

Gratitude and Giving Thanks

As we emerge (fingers crossed) from the pandemic, what are you most grateful for?

My youngest son’s school wanted to start a new annual tradition this school year to celebrate being able to come together as a community. They decided to hold a Gratitude Festival—to not only celebrate community, but honor the things we are grateful for — teachers, parents, administrators, friends, health, education, the community, and much more.

Being grateful has given me so much – it helps me be present and notice all the wonderful things around me (people, nature, animals, etc.). Everyday I’m reminded of all the things I have to be thankful for. I’ve tried to instill gratitude in my children. At meals we often share what we are grateful for. I’m hopeful they see the joy in being grateful too.

With Thanksgiving coming up, we often reflect on what we are thankful for. I hope events such as the Gratitude Festival at my son’s school, is one of many events that are held across the country, throughout the year, that provides each of us the opportunity to acknowledge the gifts all around us. After all, realizing the gifts in your life is a catalyst for experiencing gratitude, and when you’re grateful you feel blessed or fortunate. That usually means you feel good. And if you feel good, you’re more likely to spread your good feelings to others. Spreading happiness. What a wonderful thing.

What traditions do you have that are teaching your child gratitude? How are you and/or your child spreading happiness?

I will be away the next few weeks while spending times with friends and family, and will be back in December. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Time Management

Are you good at managing your time?

Before my oldest started school this Fall we talked about juggling priorities — school, sports, and other activities. We discussed he’d be learning time management and how to prioritize and get what’s needed done first, and wants second. We’re nearing the end of his first term and grades will be coming out soon. His sports season is wrapping up as well. He has expressed he is struggling juggling with it all.

His school gives parents access online to a student’s grades and assignments. It’s a way for parents to have a view into how their child is doing along the way. My husband and I rarely go in, not because it might be helpful or useful, but because we want our son to learn he has to stay on top of his studies without us watching him like a hawk. He is in an Advanced Placement (AP) class that allows students to gain college credit while in high school if they can pass the given exam at the end of the year. In order to get him signed up for the end of year exam, I had to go into the site that shows his grades and assignment completions to find the name of the teacher and class he’d be taking the test we needed to pay for. I couldn’t help but notice there were several assignments he hadn’t turned in (thankfully his grades looked pretty good). I asked him later that day about the assignments. He was surprised — not that I had looked, but that he hadn’t gotten all of his assignments in. He checked in with his teachers the following day, turned in the missing assignments, and was actually thankful it had been caught as it would have lowered his grade if it had not been addressed.

After some particularly long days for my son, which seemed to consist of wake-up, go to school, go to practice, eat dinner, sleep, he had little time to get his schoolwork done. He shared he was struggling, I asked him,”What did we say you’d have to learn and start to master this year?” He responded, “Time management.” I was glad he remembered without any prompting for me. “That’s right,” I said, “We need to think through what tools will help you.” He jumped in, “But I’m so tired when I get home and just want to zone out for a little while.” I completely understood how he felt. I, too, remember the stress increasing as I progressed in high school. I asked him what he was struggling with most. “Homework,” he shared, “when I get home I eat dinner then go through all my classes to see what homework I have.” I shared that was a good start, and suggested he add a designated time to do homework as a way to help — give him a little time to relax after practice, but time enough to get homework done before he goes to bed. “It’s hard,” he said. I agreed with him, but reminded him that learning these skills now will help him as he gets older.

Do you have a child who has a busy schedule and is struggling to manage it all? What strategies or tools are you sharing with them to help them better manage their time?

Facing Fear

While Halloween is this weekend and many are looking to be scared, my youngest was faced with a fear unrelated to ghosts and goblins, but something that had been haunting him for a while — riding a bike on public streets.

My son’s school has teamed up with an organization that has the students ride bikes to a destination within a few miles of the school one day a week. When they reach their destination they do a service project and then bike back to school. It’s been a great activity for the kids. My husband and I were curious how our son was doing. He had had a bad experience at a younger age when he biked on a public road accidentally running his bike into a car (I blogged about it previously). When we asked how biking went he gave short answers, and was vague. We started pressing him for further details and he confessed that he hadn’t been riding bikes with his classmates and had been staying behind at school with the teachers. We asked him why he hadn’t talked about this before, and he shared he had been embarrassed that he couldn’t do it. We talked through options: we could help him practice riding with us at home in our neighborhood to get him more comfortable, he could talk to his teachers about ways to help him get more comfortable. He didn’t take us up on our suggestions. Another week went by, another excuse why he didn’t ride.

The night before our son’s school was due to ride bikes again, my husband and I sat our son down. We stressed the importance of pushing his comfort zone, and his need to have success riding his bike. We told him our expectation was he would ride, and working through his fear was a skill he needed to develop, and that building it now, would help him when he needs to face uncomfortable situations in the future. He agreed he would ride.

I half expected to learn my son didn’t ride his bike again, but was pleasantly surprised when he texted me on his way home from school alerting me that he had ridden with the group the entire time. I was so proud of him, but what made me happiest was seeing how proud my son was of himself. He was glowing. What a wonderful moment to share.

What does your child fear? How are you helping them work through any fears?

The Great Pumpkin Carving

What’s a favorite Fall tradition for your family?

We have several including going to our favorite pumpkin patch, but the tradition I look most forward to is pumpkin carving. The pumpkin carving is fun, but I enjoy the company, seeing everyone, talking, catching up, sharing a meal, and feeling connected.

Last year, we skipped the tradition as a precaution due to COVID. We all missed it. My niece is a senior in high school and will be heading off to college next year. This being her last pumpkin carving (at least for a while) is really hitting home. My sons and I talked about it when we went to the pumpkin patch with their cousins. We are all in a bit of denial this tradition will come to an end-of-sorts after this year. Yes, it will still go on, but it will be different without her with us. I’m reminded again of how quickly time is going and trying to be truly present so I can fully take in the joy of the experience and all of us being back together again.

What traditions are you most looking forward to resuming? What will it mean to you and your family to be back with others again?

Peer Pressure

What peer pressure did you experience as a kid?

My oldest is allowed to have lunch off school grounds every day. He and two friends go a few blocks to a park and normally eat lunch there. One day he left the house without his lunch. I was able to run his lunch over to him during a lunchtime break. I picked him up after his sports practice had ended later in the day. Driving home I asked him how his day was. I got the normal “okay, I guess” answer. For whatever reason I asked, “and lunch was okay too?” I was thinking about what I’d brought him, did I get it right, did he get enough to eat — I’m not sure why I was concerned. I expected another short answer, but instead I got a “Well, actually…”

He started to explain what happened during lunch. The food I brought him was fine. But one of his friends got into a fight with another student who was also in the park. It was a little hard to follow how it went down, but based on what I could gather one student started “jawing” about my son’s friend and trying to get another student and my son’s friend to fight. When the instigator’s efforts didn’t work he was pressured by his group to do something. He walked over to my son’s friend, slapped him, and my son’s friend retaliated. My son’s friend was the bigger kid and the fight was over pretty quickly. My son got upset with his friend for engaging in the fight, and asked him what he was thinking. “Don’t you know what you have to lose? It’s so not worth it.” My son’s friend got upset with him for not joining in (my son’s friend didn’t need any help in the fight, it sounded like his expectations were ‘that’s just what friends do’). My son disagreed and told his friend, “The issue is between you and the other kid. Why would I get involved? This has nothing to do with me.” His friend didn’t like that answer. We talked about how my son handled the situation (I was impressed and proud he’d had this insight and had been able to tell his friend), and had great empathy for my son’s friend and the other boy involved. They appeared to have gotten caught up in peer pressure — if it had only been the two boys it didn’t sound a fight would have ever occurred.

My son feels for his friend and the consequences. Will he get kicked off the sports team they play on? Or get benched for a few games? Will his friend get in trouble by the school (it happened off campus by during school hours)? Will he and his friend get to the other side of this? Will his friend see that my son cares about him and wants his friend to make good choices, which can be so difficult to make when peer pressure is strong? I know my son is hopeful and so am I.

How does your child defend themselves against peer pressure? How are you helping them make good choices in tough situations?

Overflowing

What are the worst parts of parenting?

When my boys were little, I would have said lack of sleep, changing diapers, dealing with spit up, drooling, and teething. Of course there are tough parts of parenting as your kid grows that aren’t necessarily fun — setting rules, enforcing them, teaching things, getting your child to listen/care, your child getting upset with you or you with them — but while those times can be challenging, frustrating, maybe even painful, in our house, we always try to find the lesson on the other side.

One son clogged the toilet one evening. Definitely one of those things I’ve never enjoyed as a parent. 😊 He attempted to unclog it, only to fill the bowl to the brim on the verge of overflowing after several failed attempts. He went out to ask his father for help. My husband sprang into action and then started getting upset with my son for not knowing what to do (get water out of the toilet, transfer it to the bucket without spilling on the floor, get towels to clean up what spilled, etc.). My husband got frustrated with my son, and my son got upset with himself for not knowing what to do. I had gone to bed early and woke to several text messages from my son outlining what happened and the sadness he felt about what had happened and how the interaction with his father had went. I texted him back (while he was sleeping) reminding him that even though we might not always like what each other is doing, we always love each other, no matter what. I grabbed time with him once he was awake.

“How are you doing?” I asked. “Better,” he said, “Thanks for your message.” I sat him down and shared some insight with him. “You wouldn’t know this but as your parent our job is to teach you things, and when things happen where you or your brother don’t know what to do, it can feel like we, as your parents, have failed you. And that can feel bad. It doesn’t excuse behavior — if we get short-tempered, frustrated or maybe say things in anger. I want you to understand why your father might have reacted the way he did. We’ve never taught you and your brother how to unclog a toilet so there would be no way you would know how to do that. It’s something we need to teach you. Also, you might have been a bit embarrassed about clogging the toilet. Anyone would be. In the future, you don’t need to worry about that. If you’re in a situation and you try the fix and it seems to be making the problem worse, stop — give yourself time to think what to do next — ask for help, go online and look for tips and tricks, etc.” I took a breath. “Does that all make sense? You didn’t do anything wrong. These things happen and you’re reminding your father and I we have more teaching to do.” He gave me a hug, and headed off to school.

That afternoon my other son, who’d seen what happened said, “I have an idea. I think there are things you and dad should teach us. Maybe pick once a week, and show us how to do it.” “Do you have ideas for what you’d like us to teach you?,” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “unclogging a toilet, paying a bill, setting up an account, tying a tie.” I smiled, these were all great things we’d gladly teach our boys. I told him as much. He started a list when he got home, and his brother is adding to it.

Cleaning up after someone else can feel like the worst when it’s happening. But being able to understand each other better, and how we can help each other (our kids better understand my husband and I, and us better understanding what we need to teach our kids), has me overflowing with gratitude. Who knew a clogged toilet could lead to that?

What bad situation lead to something good for you and your child?

Sexuality

Puberty and sexuality were the two aspects of parenting I was happy I wouldn’t be challenged with for many years when my kids were young, but time has passed and we are now in the full swing of puberty and my boys exploring their sexuality.

My oldest is quiet in regards to his sexuality. He’s opened up to me in the past around feelings of possibly not fitting in one box. My response, that’s fine, you’ve got time to figure this out, Mom and Dad will support you regardless. My youngest is much more vocal and confident in his.

Being on the spectrum, it is not uncommon for sexuality to be more fluid. When my youngest was in elementary school he didn’t like “boy” things (sports, fighting, etc.) and said, “I wish I were a girl.” We explored if he truly wanted to be female and was struggling with gender assignment, but after talking more with him, counselors and therapists, he really liked being a boy (having a boy’s body), he just didn’t like the gender stereotypes that were being thrust upon him being male. We told him that he was perfectly fine as he is, and he needn’t worry about trying to conform or change.

Fast forward to middle school, puberty and sex education are big topics. My husband took both boys to a course at our local children’s hospital when each turned 11. My oldest found it a little uncomfortable but informative. My youngest found it informative and traumatic. When the instructor talked about the act of sex, my son got so upset he started crying and almost threw up.

They are talking about acceptance in his school and how to appreciate everyone as they are, including how they dress, talk, act, sexual orientation, etc. My son has gained confidence in expressing comfort in his differences. He shared one day in the car a few months ago, “Mom, I think I’m bisexual.” My reply, “That’s great.” I tried to just stay even keeled wanting to know I love him and support him no matter what. More recently he’s voiced that he is gay. To that, I’ve said, that is great too. He seemed to want to get more of a reaction out of his father and I when we were in the car driving together. “I just have to tell you, I’m pretty sure I’m gay and that isn’t going to change.” He was so happy about it, it made me smile, but I had to ask some clarifying questions. “Being gay is great, but I’ve wondered if maybe you’re asexual?” He responded, “No, Mom. Being asexual means you aren’t interested in other people. I am.” I continued. “I think asexual can also mean that you like other people but aren’t interested in having intercourse. Let’s look up the definition.” We looked it up. The definition we found read:

Asexual is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest in sexual activity. Some people consider asexuality to be their sexual orientation, and others describe it as an absence of sexual orientation.

Asexual can also be an umbrella term that includes a wide spectrum of asexual sub-identities, such as demisexual, grey-A, queerplatonic, and many others. Asexual people may identify as cisgender, non-binary, transgender, or any other gender.

After reading the definition I shared my observation. “I think you like others, and the idea of holding hands and kissing is fine, but you have no interest in sexual intercourse or touching. What do you think?” He thought about it and said, “You’re right. I’m fine with holding hands and kissing, but don’t want to do any of that other stuff.” My husband and I said ultimately it does not matter how he identifies now or in the future, we still love him just as he is.

It was important for me to have this conversation with him because as he becomes more independent and starts to explore acting on his attraction to others that he does so with all the information. I don’t want others to misinterpret his wants and desires. I shared with him, “if you tell people you are gay, they may assume you are comfortable with having sex. And if you are, that’s fine. But if you aren’t, that’s something you’ll need to let your partner know so there isn’t any confusion, and people don’t get upset or hurt.” We will definitely have to have more conversations with him as he grows to help him navigate (we’ll be learning along with him).

How are you helping your child accept who they are? How are you helping them better communicate their wants, needs, and desires to others?

Jealousy

Have you ever been jealous of someone else?

It’s a rhetorical question. Everyone experiences jealousy at some point. My oldest’s thinking on his athletic capabilities is being challenged this year in new ways. Where he once was confident, he’s now unsure. Who he is, if he isn’t strong athletically is depressing him, and his outlook for what the future holds. As a parent it is heartbreaking and scary to watch (how can I support him best? Get him out of this funk? Help him see he is way more than what he’s athletically capable of).

After a game, he got in the car and said, “I suck.” He proceeded to talk and talk. He is normally not much of a talker, so the fact that he was talking let me know he needed to. We got home and sat in the car talking for almost another hour. It came up that not only was he feeling bad about himself, but also envious of others — a peer, in particular, who is gifted athletically without having to put much effort in. “This isn’t even the sport he loves, and he’s a starter every game.” I attempted to help him see things from another point of view, but he wasn’t fully listening. He had dug in on the situation being dark and hopeless for him. I worried going to bed that night — would he be okay?

The next morning, after a good nights sleep, he came out to where I was. I shared I’d like to talk with him a little more whenever he was ready. I thought he’d delay the conversation but asked for a minute and then asked what I wanted to talk about. First I asked him if he was feeling any better and he said he was. Phew! I said, “ There’s two points I didn’t make last night, that I think are important. One, things feel really intense right now. You’re 15, you’re going through puberty, you’re still growing, trying new things, and everything can feel really intense,” he nodded in agreement, I continued, “things will get better. If I could go back to my 15 year-old self, I would tell her to be a lot kinder and to not take things so seriously. The second thing I want to talk about is jealousy. We all experience it. You need to understand that while you’re jealous of others, others are jealous of you — for reasons that are out of your control — you’re tall, math comes easily to you, you don’t want for anything. You may think ‘that’s crazy, no one would be jealous of me’, but I’m telling you it’s the truth. Remember that. Your friend can’t help he’s athletically talented. That has more to do with the genes he was given from his parents than anything else. He can’t help that. Just like you can’t help that you’re tall, or good at math, right?” He nodded. “That’s all,” I concluded. “Thanks, mom,” he said. Then we sat and watched a game together on TV. He seemed calmer and more at peace. I hope that is the case.

Has your child experienced jealousy? How have you helped them come to terms or work through it?

Winning and Losing

How do you handle wins and losses?

Our oldest dressed for his team’s game and watched as they went up by many points. Early in the second half it looked like a potential blowout. But the other team kept playing, our team made mistakes, confidences got shaken, and what should have been a blow out ended up with the opposition winning soundly. It was a tough night.

The next morning after a good nights sleep washed most of the sting of the loss away, my son and I talked about the game. “Any thoughts on yesterday’s game?” I asked. He was quiet for a few moments. I couldn’t tell if he hadn’t heard me or was thinking about his answer. Just as I was going to ask another question he replied. “You know, I’ve been thinking about what my soccer coach in elementary school used to ask us after a loss — did they win, or did we lose? — I think we lost yesterday.” Whoa, I thought, that was profound. He’s really thinking about this at a deeper level, and processing what happened. I agreed with him on them losing. He talked for a few minutes on his view of why the loss occurred and what he’d fix if given the chance (plays he’d run, positions he’d have switched out to keep everyone with enough energy to play their best, etc.). He talked like a mature adult, with great leadership potential. I was both a little surprised and very impressed. I was reminded he is 15, a young man, stepping out of the shadow of his younger self. Gulp! Time truly is going fast.

Winning feels good. Losing doesn’t, but you learn so much more when things don’t go as you hoped or planned. You learn about yourself – what you’d do differently and improve the next time, and others – what’s within your control (not much) and what isn’t — and how to digest the pain in a way that helps you process the situation and moves you toward positive personal growth.

How do you help your child when they lose? How are you helping them see the upside of not winning, and the opportunity for growth?