Up, Up, and Away

Does your child like to travel?

My oldest has anxiety when he travels — specifically to new locations. He isn’t worried about mechanical problems or turbulence, but the length of the flight, getting bored or uncomfortable in his seat, and worried about worst case scenarios when he reaches his final destination — it being unsafe, or getting lost, etc. Leading up to his most recent trip, he started showing signs of his anxiety in a number of ways — complaining “I don’t want to go”, getting angry “this is so dumb”, and muttering under his breathe “this is so stupid”. Keep in mind he’s 14, so these reactions are common when he experiences anxiety or discomfort regardless the situation.

My husband and I deployed multiple methods of working to help him work through his feelings in the days leading up to his departure. We had numerous talks, went on multiple walks. We reminded him that while he may be anxious about the unknown (and reassuring him that it’s normal to feel this way) that everything was going to be okay.

He and I talked the night before he left on his trip. I tried to get him to think about his fears in a different context. “How long, and potentially boring, the flight is going to be is a good problem to have,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “Think about it. There are kids whose family can’t afford to pay the rent, or struggle to put food on the table. To those kids, getting on a plane to go somewhere is a dream. The fact that you have this opportunity to see new places is a gift.” I could see, for a flicker of a moment, he understood what I was saying. He wasn’t done complaining or sharing his concerns with me, but I’m hopeful I got through to him and when his anxiety returns he can think of this is a larger context the problems that he’s experiencing are actually good ones to have, and instead enjoy the gift he’s being given.

How do you help you child when they have anxiety? How do you help them work through their feelings?

Who Do You Love?

What or who do you love?

My younger son can easily articulate what and who he loves. He says I love you to my husband and I without any discomfort, and for the most part is comfortable sharing his feelings openly and honestly with others. I think he is just wired this way. My oldest keeps his emotions close. He can come across as being quick to anger or unhappiness, but am now better understanding that it is his discomfort that is causing these emotional reactions.

I’m thinking of having my oldest keep a gratitude journal. Peggy Orenstein’s talk and my Head and Heart blog made me think this is one way we can help our son keep his head and heart connected. My hope is that by journaling he’ll grow to appreciate all the good things in his life, and that while disappoint and discomfort will happen there is a different way he can respond because he’ll remember he’s loved and has a lot of things to love in his life.

How does your child express their emotions? How are you helping them remember all that is positive in their life?

Head and Heart

How does your child show others who they are?

My family and I were fortune to see Peggy Orenstein talk about her book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. My husband and I decided to have our sons attend with us. While the idea of having to hear about sex, intimacy, and porn with my kids made me uncomfortable, my husband and I knew if these topics were ‘out in the open’ we could talk more openly with our kids about what they are seeing, hearing, and thinking.

My kids shared my discomfort. “Mom, do we have to go?,” they asked. There was no getting out of it. If I as going to power through my discomfort so we’re they. We were going to this talk as a family. I did suggest a compromise, “I know you’re uncomfortable being with mom and dad at this event. If you want to sit away from us, that’s okay.” That seemed to make us all feel a little better.

One of the most powerful revelations I had during Peggy’s talk was when she shared what her work uncovered — that girls are taught to disconnect from their bodies (who you are is one thing, your body or outward appearance another), and boys are taught to disconnect from their heart (have feelings, empathy, etc., but not be able to show them). I thought about how I’ve seen my oldest son struggle with this. It’s like the empathetic kid I’ve known has been working hard to stuff his feelings and empathy way down–with it rarely surfacing as he ages. My husband and I have talked to him about toxic masculinity and encouraged him not to buy into it (or fall into its trap), but Peggy shared insights that helped outline just how hard that is. Our kids are up against what the see on TV, the internet, etc., and risk isolating themselves when they break from the “norm” — stand up for others, or freely express how they feel.

The talk has helped us start a more useful dialogue as a family around what our boys are up against. My husband and my’s goal is to teach them to keep their head and heart connected. It won’t be easy, but us being willing to be uncomfortable together has been for us a great place to start.

How are you helping your child be true to who they are?

Easy Come Easy Go

When was the last time your child did something that surprised you?

This last happened to me a few days after Christmas. My oldest has been asking for an iPad for a while. We have never invested in a gaming system for our kids, and my son likes to use my iPad (which is very old) to play Madden. My iPad is so old, it no longer can support any of the latest versions of Madden so, as far as my son is concerned, it’s useless. 😊 My husband and my response is always the same when our son tells us he wants this, “Do you understand how expensive iPads are?” Communicating that we understand he wants it, but it’s not going to happen. We said if he wanted an iPad so badly, he should ask for money from his grandparents, and other family for Christmas.

I was in need of a new smartphone earlier in the year after the screen on my previous phone shattered. When buying the phone they had a buy one get one free offer so I decided to pick up an iPhone for my son. My husband and I had been talking about upgrading him from his flip phone to an iPhone but still had concerns over him having such a device (particularly with all the content that’s available). Thank goodness for parental controls. Being able to restrict his usage as night, limiting what sites he can access made us feel more comfortable giving it to him as his Christmas gift. It was one of the few times I’ve seen my son get a gift and be almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

A few days after the holidays my son came to me and said, “Mom, you know that money I was saving for the iPad? Well, I no longer need it since I have my iPhone. I want to give it to #TeamTrees.” My son learned of this organization (teamtrees.org) while watching YouTube. They were getting a lot of press and buy-in from other YouTube and non-YouTube celebrities helping them achieve their goal of planting 20 million trees. My son was caught up in the hype and wanted to contribute his savings that day. While I loved that my son wanted to donate his money I wanted to make sure he was really thinking through where his money was going, and taking the steps to educate himself on the cause, charity, and feeling good about where his money went (e.g., what about the cause speaks to, or resonates with you?). My husband and I asked him to do some research, sleep on it and we could figure it out in the following days. Once we learned #TeamTrees had exceeded their goal, my son was more willing to look into other charities. We had him look up charity ratings, and after doing some research he decided to donate his savings to the ArborDay Foundation. I was proud and surprised at how easily my son was letting go of the money he’d been saving up for almost a year. He could have easily bought something for himself, but felt compelled (maybe influenced by the YouTube community?) to give his money away.

I’ll take this kind of surprise from one of my children any day.

When was the last time your child surprised you in a good way?

The Simple Things

What is something simple you enjoy?

I was reminded of how the simplest things — like a blanket and two chairs can make a cool fort — when my boys were young and how quickly they grew bored of toys we’d spent money on, only to enjoy the simpler things (that don’t have any additional cost) much more and for much longer.

I was again reminded that enjoyment of simple things isn’t just for us humans. Our cat prefers towels in a chair over a cat bed (oh, the money we could have saved). 😊

People make resolutions in the New Year. I’m going with enjoying the simple things. I might even save some money too (bonus!).

What does your child enjoy that is simple and doesn’t cost a thing?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

All I Want For Christmas is…

What does your child want for Christmas this year?

My kids are older now, so gift giving is somewhat easier – getting gift cards, money, athletic gear, YouTuber merch (yes, I’m using teenage slang now. 🙂 ), or music — and they are happy campers. For me, sure there are things that I’d like, but nothing that I need. I feel unbelievably fortunate.

At home, one evening near dinner time, my younger son was sharing some of his favorite sayings at school. He threw them out rapidly and each one made you stop and think. I was impressed, but the one that stopped me in my tracks was, “there’s no pause button in life.” I said, “Did you hear that from someone or did you come up with that yourself?” He replied, “No, mom, I came up with that myself.” I think I saw an eye-roll before he went about sharing other favorite phrases he likes to use at school. Now, I know my son is not the first person to come up with or use this phrase, but the fact that it resonated with him, and he understood what it meant, blew me away.

I ask my family to join me to see the luminaries lining a nearby lake every December. It’s a tradition I’ve been trying to create for many years (even blogging about it previously). This year, it was raining the night of the luminaries. The rain was supposed to move out, but hung around. I told my kids it was time to go and they both protested in a way that I knew that while I could force them to do it, none of us would enjoy ourselves. So, my husband and I went by ourselves and walked the lake in the rain. We commented on the pros — lesser crowds and no kids protesting; the cons — it was raining pretty hard, and our kids weren’t with us. We had dinner following and talked about how it will only be a few more years before our oldest is out on his own, and only so many more times to walk the lake together as a family. It reminded me of what my younger son had said — that there is no pause button in life. Oh, how I wish there was. The hard times, I might want to fast forward through, of course, but there are those times when you want to slow things down, maybe even backup and do them over, but you can’t. There is indeed no pause (reverse, or fast forward) button in life.

All I want for Christmas this year is for my family to be together, and enjoy our time together. The kids promised they’d walk the lake with me next year (we’ll see if that actually happens or not), and that’s enough for me for now. 🙂

What do you want for Christmas?

I will be off for the next few weeks spending time with family, returning in January. Happy Holidays!

 

Holiday Spirit

What brings you joy during the holidays?

I have to admit, since my kids we’re old enough to understand what Christmas is (maybe when they were two or three) my ability to get into the holiday spirit (e.g. enjoying the decorations, music, wanting to bake) has taken more time to get there then before they came, with less time to enjoy it.

There is so much going on leading up to the holidays, right? Concerts, parties, pageants, getting a tree, decorations, gifts, etc. I have often felt I was running on adrenaline right through Christmas Day, and could only relax once the day (or at least dinner) was over. 😊 Now that my kids are older, more independent, and our aware gifts come from Mom and Dad, the fuss to get everything done, to try to create that magic you want your kids to experience, isn’t as intense. It feels as though I’m reclaiming some of that previously-lost-time from Christmas past.

I noticed a joy coming over me earlier this year that I haven’t felt in a while. It is my Christmas spirit coming back. It feels really good to have time to get close to it, and really enjoy it with my family.

With everything going on, are you able to get into the holiday spirit?

Delivery!

Do you have the same policy that I do — don’t open the door to strangers?

Like many of us, most of my holiday shopping has been done online. The convenience is great. All the delivers — not so much. I’m particularly not a big fan of deliveries that require an in-person signature. I can appreciate the need for security and to protect against theft. Still, it’s a challenge — especially when the delivery schedule rarely fits your work schedule.

I came home from an appointment to see a deliver notification tag on my door. I hadn’t noticed it there earlier, so when I got inside I asked my son, who had gotten home before I did, if the delivery person came while he was there. I expected a ‘no’, and was surprised when he said, “yes” as he hadn’t gotten home much sooner than I did. “You did?,” I asked. “You didn’t answer the door, did you?” I have no idea why I asked him, he knows the rules – you never answer the door if mom and dad aren’t there. “Yes,” he said knowing that was the wrong answer. “I know I shouldn’t,” he continued, “I’m not sure why I did. I reflected on it after I did it and decided that probably wasn’t the best choice. I won’t do it again.” He actually used the word reflected, and shared how he’d come to the realization he should do something different in the future — I was impressed. I did not have this level of awareness when I was his age. We talked about the danger of strangers, even when they seem innocent enough (like the postal carrier or UPS person). We talked about being safe and the need to be smart(er) when alone in the house. We all learn by doing — making mistakes helps us grow. I’m just grateful this one had no consequences other than my son being reminded that while he is growing up there are still risks, and he needs to make decisions that help, not hurt, him.

How do you help your child be safe? How do you help them understand the consequences when they make a mistake?

So Thankful

What are you most thankful for this year?

There is much to be thankful for me — my family’s health, having shelter and food, support and love from family and friends, and I can’t forget our cat who brings us so much joy.

Something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated was my sons willingness to talk openly to me. My oldest seemed quieter than usual and less interested in wanting to talk to me. When I’d try to engage him he’d grunt, roll his eyes, or get defensive, “I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” I wasn’t alone in noticing how my son was acting. When this behavior carried over into the following week I decided I was going to have to do something drastic to get him to talk to me so I could better understand what was going on. I did the only thing I knew to do — I asked him to go for a walk.

“Fine,” he said in a tone indicating going on a walk with his mom was the last thing he wanted to do. I think he resolved himself to the idea that I wasn’t just going to leave him alone. We walked for a few blocks and I asked, “What’s going on with you? You seem almost angry at me. If there’s something we need to talk about, let’s talk about it.” He seemed surprised by my question. “I’m not angry at you. My mood has nothing to do with you.” “What does it have to do with because you’ve been acting differently lately and I can’t help you if I don’t know,” I asked. He made a sound of frustration and finally said, “Everything sucks.” Okay, we’re getting somewhere now, I thought. “What sucks exactly,” I asked. “School for one.” “Is it classes, or your teachers or your friends…” my question trailed off. “My teachers are great, classes are fine. It’s all the stupid kids who go to that school. They’re all dumb and judgmental, and it makes me mad because most of the people don’t know anything about me.” I could tell from the way he was talking we’d gotten to the heart of the matter — he was struggling with how you show up to others, what value you bring, how others see you. How bad it can feel when you’re ignored, or feel like you’re being judged. We talked about friendship and how it’s like growing a plant — you have to care for it and feed it, or over time it won’t survive. We arrived back at our house and my son seemed more at ease. His dark mood seemed to subside. I was grateful he agreed to go on the walk. I’ve been where he’s been — we probably all have as teenagers — trying to figure who we are and where we fit in. I’m grateful he was willing to listen and take in what I had to offer, and I’m thankful he no longer felt that he had to try to navigate this on his own.

What are you thankful for this holiday?

I’ll be taking time off to spend time with family and will be back in December.