How Will You Show Your Patriotism?

The Time magazine cover story this week is How Service Can Save Us. The article addresses the challenges military veterans returning from war have faced, and how working on service projects with other veterans has positively affected them. The article caught my attention because it touched on something that I think is important—service. As a parent I have often struggled with when and how to introduce my children to service projects.

I was raised in a family that taught to be grateful for what you have and give back to others—through your time, talent or service.  Before I had children I envisioned us working on Habitat for Humanity projects and rolling our sleeves up in parks pulling weeds or doing some other form of landscaping even when they were small. I still have that vision, but its been somewhat modified. The reality has been that service oriented activities haven’t made practical sense largely because our children are just now getting to the age where they are physically able to join in, and help out. I realized that if we went on a service project that required any physical effort and focus perhaps our family would better serve the cause by sitting out (or supporting in a different way—donating money or food, etc.). I don’t think the organizers would appreciate us chasing our kids or cajoling them, flowers would have gotten picked than planted in lieu of us doing what we came to do, help. Ultimately my husband and I have delayed this type of service and instead of looked for other ways we can serve our community (through community organizations we believe to, volunteering hours and donating money).

There is something about doing a service project that is very fulfilling, can be very rewarding and very energizing. It feels good to help. It feels good to make a positive impact. It feels good to do hard work and see the end result. While I still think my family may be a few years away from joining a more adult-friendly service project, we are going to start seeking kid-friendly ones out. In the Time magazine article they provide some websites to different service groups for anyone looking to pitch in. One mentioned is ServeNet.org and is described as “dedicated to promoting service among children and teens.” Sounds like a good site for us all to check out.

Patriot is defined by Merriam-Webster as “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.” As we celebrate our country’s founding this 4th I’m reminded that being a patriot and showing our love for this country includes service, whether you serve in one of our armed forces, or you serve your community where you live. I believe we are not born with patriotism but something we each grow into it.

How will you show your patriotism this year? How will you help your child develop theirs?

The End

We just finished reading the book My Dog Skip by Willie Morris. It is a touching story about a boy and his dog. I had seen the movie several years ago and thought our sons would enjoy it.

At the end of the book, the author speaks of Skip’s passing and how Skip is buried not under the elm tree, but in his heart. As I read the last two pages to my sons I reflected on pets I had had growing up, and one in particular that reminded me of Willie and his relationship with Skip. Socks was my cat of 18 years when she passed. I had had her since I was 11 years old. She was a member of the family, gave unconditional love, seemed to be attuned to my feelings (showing great empathy and sympathy), and has been solely missed since her passing.

As I read the last few pages of My Dog Skip, my voice cracked and tears came to my eyes. I tried to hold the tears back, taking deep breaths and pausing, but it didn’t work. I cried and my kids saw it.

My kids asked, “Are you crying?” to which I replied, “Yes, because it’s sad.” They both looked at me quizzically for a moment. It was the first time they had seen their mom cry openly in front of them, tears of sadness. Prior I had only shared tears of joy. I continued to read the last few sentences, trying but failing to hide my feelings. When I said “The End” my oldest son burst into tears, and continued crying. My husband and I tried to console him. At first I thought he was crying because I had been crying, but soon understood that he was crying because my crying confirmed what the book told us. Skip was dead.

I believe this is the first time my son grasped that things don’t live forever. It’s a hard concept to understand as a child. He started to understand that we all will die one day, even him. He was very upset that my husband and I would die one day. I know I felt the same way at the idea of losing my parents as a child, and still get teary-eyed thinking about that happening in the future. It’s inevitable, but I still doesn’t make it any easier.

What struck my husband and I about what occurred was how we handled the situation. First I attempted to talk to my son about death. I didn’t try to sugarcoat it or promise that it wouldn’t happen for a long time, but reminded him that life is a gift, that we need to take steps to try to live as long as possible eating healthy things, exercising and being safe, but we also need to figure out how to enjoy it while we’re here. I explained that we have to treasure the time we have together and work to make the most of it while we have it together. He seemed to understand all that I was saying, but it didn’t stop the crying. It was upsetting to see him this way, and a part of me wanted to say whatever was needed to get him back to a calm or happy state, but I recognized the importance of the discussion we were having.

At one point, my son got angry with himself for continuing to cry and said, “I can’t wait until I’m older and braver.” “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Because I’ll be braver, and won’t cry so easily.” I reminded him that Mom is much older and still cries. He seemed to think about this for a minute as if understanding it might be okay to feel his emotions as he grew older. What a great moment to be a part of.

My husband sat with my son following me and talked to my son about death. After a while, and seeing that continuing to talk about death was only going to lengthen the time our son was crying, he tried to turn the subject to happier things, upcoming trips we have planned, and making breakfast in the morning. While it didn’t completely work, we knew we needed to give our son some time to work through his newfound knowledge and feelings in his own way.

It wasn’t easy, but was necessary.

As a parent, we all want to make our child happy and hate to see them upset. A typical reaction is to help your child “get over” the negative feeling and push them back into a positive one, but that comes at an expense of your child missing the opportunity to gain a needed tool to deal with negative emotions as they get older. Being able to help your child feel the negative feeling and work through it is a powerful tool we can provide. It might not feel comfortable for us as parents, but many things about being a parent aren’t.

It’s good to cry, it’s good to show our kids we all experience feelings, even the hard ones as adults. It makes us vulnerable to each other. It makes our bonds stronger while we’re here on earth and beyond “The End.”

How do you help your child experience their emotions? How have you helped your child deal with the death of a loved one?

For Fathers and Men Alike

My sons and I were discussing this past week how to honor their father and my husband today. I asked them what we should make Dad for breakfast. My oldest replied, “We should give Dad doughnuts,” to which I asked “why? Doughnuts are your favorite, not Dad’s.” My son thought for a minute and stated very firmly, “Well, Father’s Day is really man’s day. And we want doughnuts.”

I couldn’t help but smile he had such conviction in his belief. “When did Father’s Day become Man’s Day?” I asked. “I don’t know,” my son replied, “but I know all men become fathers so we should honor all men too.” I realized I could tell my son that not all men will be fathers, or inquire in why we hadn’t celebrated all women on Mother’s Day, but decided that should wait until he is a bit older.

My son did raise a good point. Through a child’s eyes any adult can be a parent. And being a parent entails being a role model. And if that’s how a child sees us, then we all are role models, regardless if we have children of our own or not.

As we honor all the fathers, grandfathers and men who are or have been role models in our lives, I think about the contribution my father made in making me who I am.

Thank you to my father, my husband, and all the men out there who are making a positive difference in our children’s lives. Your presence, involvement and desire to be successful, as a parent, means more than you know.

As we served breakfast this morning, my husband got pancakes and bacon, and a few mini doughnuts. I decided the doughnuts should symbolize unity between my husband and his boys, and the power of a strong male role model.

Happy Father’s Day!

What Makes You Laugh?

My youngest son has his own special language. This language appears only when he is being silly, or trying to be silly. When he is deep into speaking his special gibberish, we’ll ask, “are you speaking English or are you speaking something else?” To which, we’ll smile and say in a mumbled voice with a big sly smile on his face, “something else.”

During a recent episode of him using this special language, he decided to change Lightning McQueen’s catchphrase from “Ka-Chow” to “Ka-Pow” followed by other words that rhyme with the “ow” sound. I decided to get into the mix and offered up “Ka-Meow.” I added in the sound effects of a cat meowing when I said it to my son. He burst into laughter as if he’d heard the funniest thing ever. We both did different variations of “Ka-Meow” for several minutes and laughed really hard. Saying “Ka-meow” has become an instant way for us to make each other laugh.

Being a parent is serious work. There is so much to get done, so much we are working to juggle, and so much we are trying to get right. It can be easy to get caught up in the seriousness of it all and forget to enjoy it. I like a good laugh, but love connecting with my children in a way that shows Mom can be silly too.  That Mom enjoys life and Mom enjoys being a parent.

What makes you and your child laugh? How are you showing your child you enjoy life and enjoy raising them?

Let’s Have an Adventure

What family vacations come to mind from your childhood?  Road trips? Camping? Visiting friends or family?

As a child, my family was a ‘road trip’ kind of family. We drove everywhere, regardless of the distance. Our trips were educational. We saw a lot, learned a lot, and after a while, got on each other’s nerves a lot. But we enjoyed the experience together and have many great memories as a result. As a young adult, I often felt like many of our family vacations were FFF – Forced Family Fun, but in reality, they were an adventure.

An adventure is defined as an exciting or remarkable experience. I can remember getting ready for our trips, packing our suitcases, and thinking about the games we’d play in the car. It was exciting, we were going to see and do something new. Even if we were going to see our relatives or go to a new place, our road trips were never quite the same.

This summer, we have planned many adventures for our family. There will be camping, long drives, and lots of time together. My husband and I can’t wait. The kids seem excited too. I wonder if they’ll think back and have fond memories of our time together, or if they’ll think of these trips as Forced Family Fun.

We are building memories, and I’m treasuring each one. To see my sons faces once we get to our destination, to see them enjoying finding bugs in the outdoors, roasting marshmallows over the campfire, watching waterfalls in awe, or seeing their joy as they jump into a pool, I’m not sure being a parent gets much better than these moments.

What adventures do you have planned for this year?