Anxiety, Stress, and Gratefulness

What sums up 2020 for you and your family?

For us, it’s been anxiety, stress, and gratefulness.

Anxiety – the virus turning into a global pandemic reminded me of when I first became a parent. What is happening? How do I get myself through this? How do I help my sons get through this? Time shifted. It slowed much like it did when my sons were newborns, not knowing what each new day would bring, and bracing myself as I learned and adjusted.

Stress – much like giving birth trying to figure out how to survive — what we were seeing on the news, schools shutting down, work going remote, isolation, boredom, not knowing, toxic politics, people suffering, inequality and injustice, and longevity of the situation setting in — could be overwhelming and feel like you were surviving a trauma over and over. Putting one foot in front of the other to make it through the day could be challenging, but you put on your survivor face cause you had kids that needed to know everything would be okay, even when you didn’t.

Gratefulness – nature and our cat have been lifelines for us this year. Simple things — a sunny day, a rainbow, petting our cat (or simply watching him play, run, or hunt), brought us great joy. Virtual dinner parties, friends reaching out to check in, our boys finding ways to physically distance but still be with their friends, are things we are grateful for. Our health. Masks. People taking the virus seriously. All things we are thankful for. A vaccine, maybe two, coming, hallelujah! Time picking back up, adjusting to our new normal, being healthy. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

What sums up 2020 for you and your family? What are you grateful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be off next week, but back in December.

Wait For It

Since the pandemic started time has been a funny thing. Dragging by and then suddenly speeding up, then slowing, speeding up, and so on.

The summer was probably the hardest for us. With school over, and no ability to really do anything with friends or travel, the long-ness of the situation set in. My kids complained often how bored they were. We all were.

Then school started back up and time picked back up with it. Not to the pace it was pre-pandemic but faster than it had been. We were grateful. Then the anxiety of the upcoming election set in, the economy crumbling, people suffering increased, and time almost seemed suspended — like being in an alternate universe. Yet time marched on.

Halloween came and went, and we got a sense for how the holidays will be different this year, foregoing some of our annual traditions to be safe. We held our breathe with the election. Then it was over and we exhaled. We almost shout with glee when we learned a vaccine is coming. But time is funny. The virus starts spiking, the vaccine will come but time slows, we have more waiting to do.

My boys are desperate to be with their friends again. We’re all having quarantine fatigue but have to stay the course until we’re actually vaccinated—so we play the waiting game.

It’s hard to be still and wait. You learn patience as a parent, or at least I did, with my kids. When you’re young, waiting for something can be so hard. Remember what it felt like on Christmas Eve (or morning) when you had to wait just a little longer to see what Santa brought? Waiting can feel like torture, but it does eventually pass. It almost always does. We just have to wait for it.

How are you and your family making it through the pandemic? What helps you make waiting easier or more bearable?

Anticipation

The last week has been an emotional roller coaster, right?

The waiting has been hard. I’ve gone from worried to hopeful to worried to hopeful.

As election results started coming in my husband and I tried to suppress our concerns at what we were seeing — we didn’t want the kids to be worried. What I didn’t expect was that our sons were glued to the election and on their phones talking to friends about what was happening. They were as stressed/concerned/anxious as my husband and I were.

I hated that they were worried, but in awe that they realized the importance of voting and having every vote counts. They understand the importance of leadership and how it can impact them and their peers, our country (and those suffering from illness or poverty), and around the world (climate change).

We had a discussion over dinner about what we would do if we were charge. My oldest really pressed my husband and I for policy changes we would implement or change. I suggested we use tax incentives to bring renewable energy jobs to rural parts of the country where people need jobs. My husband had suggestions around better use of our taxes. I shared that many of us adults have a lot of hope based on young people’s engagement, enthusiasm, and energy to make positive change in our country, and are inspired to engage in our political process like never before.

We all agreed, as Americans we can only be better if we help each other be our best. We take care and lookout for each other (such as giving everyone access to healthcare and education regardless of your background or means). It might sound optimist, but feels like it’s possible with the right leadership and drive to unite us.

We now know who our next President will be. I’m breathing again. My kids are more relaxed, but know there is still a divide in our country and many unhappy with the results. I’m hopeful we’ll heal and come together, and stop the decisiveness. If nothing more than for our kids.

How are you being the change we need in our country? How are you helping your child to be part of the change?

Make It Count

How aware is your child about the upcoming election?

We all want it over and behind us, right? My boys have been aware of politics and world happenings at a much younger than I was. I found politics boring growing up and didn’t feel a need to pay attention to it until I could vote.

We listened to an interesting story on the radio where a sixteen year old made the case for young people should be allowed to vote. While that might seem absurd to some, his argument was compelling, particularly when he raised the issue of working and paying taxes, but having no say in where his tax dollars were spent.

Our youth are more aware and engaged in politics and the obvious things that need to be addressed in our country — healthcare for all, equality, climate change, and so much more. They don’t have a vote, so they look to us, their parents, caregivers, family, and friends to do what they can’t … vote. They’re counting on us.

Please vote.

Exhausted

Does your child ever struggle with sleep?

My youngest became a good sleeper after we put him in the same bedroom with his older brother at the age of one. He has been our power sleeper for many years. We’ve often joke at how he can sleep through anything — high winds (he slept through it), rain coming into our tent (he slept thorough it), and the list goes on.

Lately our son has been having trouble sleeping — either having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. We’ve talked about ways to help – no food or water near bedtime, no screen time leading up to bed, and nothing seems to help. He’s not overly worried about it, but you can tell it’s bothering him. He rather liked thinking of himself as a power sleeper.

He was asked to watch the Presidential Debate for school so his class could discuss our political process the following day. Thank goodness he was only required to watch 30 minutes. He and I agreed, every minute of it was painful. It was only a few nights after that he shared he’d woken in the middle of the night and for whatever reason he was feeling anxious and scared. When I asked him if he knew what caused him to feel this way he couldn’t point to anything in particular. The way he described it it sounded like generalized anxiety. Like many these days there is much to worry about — COVID-19, equal justice, climate change, the economy, and politics. It’s enough to make anyone lose sleep.

As a family, we agreed that since the kids can remote school from anywhere we might as well take advantage of it. Because we’re all exhausted we need to take the opportunity for change in scenery. We need to find joy in the new, and gratitude for all the things we have. We’re hoping we’ll even get some good sleep. That would be amazing.

How does your child sleep? How do you help them when they struggle to get a good night’s rest?

I’ll be away for the next few weeks spending time with family and will be back in November.

Stepping Up

Is your child shy or comfortable in the spotlight?

My youngest has never been bothered by the spotlight, but he’s never purposely sought it out either. Others have seen his comfort with being in front of others — whether in a school play or talent show — and encouraged him to shine, and he’s obliged. He’s fearless in this respect.

In elementary, his after school group was going to form a student committee and asked for the kids to run for certain positions. My son was eager to participate and run for the presidency. He changed his mind a few days later after finding out others planned to run as well. When we asked why he no longer wanted to run he shared that he knew how bad one of the other kid’s wanted the position and it just wasn’t that important to him. He was happy to see his peer get the role. At the time my husband and I didn’t know if we should be proud or concerned. We wanted to make sure he wasn’t dropping out of the race to avoid incurring failure. No one wants to experience failure, but there are life lessons learned in these moments and we didn’t want our son intentionally missing out on this. He convinced us he was fine with running but his heart was no longer in it, so we backed down.

Fast forward to this school year. His school decided to put together a school council with representatives from each grade. He had to put together a speech (how he’d represent his class and convince his peers he was the right person for the job) and post a video delivering the speech. He was working on it one evening when I came into his room and asked him how his speech writing was going. I saw he had only a few sentences typed on the computer. “I’m just not sure how to say this,” he said. I read what he had down and asked some clarifying questions. “What do you mean here when you say you want the school to be safe and clean?” “Well, the school sound be safe where everyone can be who they are and not be worried about being teased or bullied. And clean, means we all need to pitch in and keep our space clean,” he said. “And why do you need your space clean?” I asked. “Well, because it’s our environment. When you have a clean space you don’t get distracted. It makes you feel better and it’s easier to focus.” “Great,” I replied. We then discussed how he just needed to think through the main points he wanted to get across and how to better explain his ideas to his classmates. We role-played him giving his speech for a while and then I left him to it. The election was held and he was chosen as one of his class representatives. He was so proud that he was selected by his peers. We were proud he was willing to step up to the challenge. The fact that he actually was picked was icing on the cake.

How are you helping your child stand up? How are you helping them to shine?

Dinner Table

How has meal time been affected by Covid?

In our family, we’ve always had dinner together, but as my husband and I have had to travel for work more often, or get to meetings in the evening, and the kids have grown and become more independent, getting us all together at the dinner table became more inconsistent. Until the pandemic kept us home.

Sitting at the table in the early days allowed us to talk about what was going on, and how we were feeling. Obviously a delicate balance since none of us had been through a pandemic before, and as parents we wanted our children to feel safe (we’d take the needed precautions and would get through this together). Each family member learned about the virus, the history of other pandemics, medical findings, and shared what we learned at the table. We dealt with boredom and frustration at being home and confined to our neighborhood. We talked about looking for the good in a difficult situation.

My appreciation for us gathering at dinner time grew when school started back up. Our oldest has a modified schedule where he has anywhere from 3-4 subjects a day (vs. the normal 7). They alternate days and subjects so he receives all the instruction he needs over any given week. In previous school years if I asked him how things were going or how his day was I’d most often get a “fine.” But with Covid and him doing remote learning I could dig deeper and get him to open up. Asking him questions — “what classes did you have today?” “How is that going?” “Do you feel like you’re understanding what they’re teaching you?” “What would help you better understand the material?” — was eye opening. My husband and I felt we got a much better picture than we’ve had before. The question we left our son with was, “What can we do to help?” He wants to try things on his own for now, and we want to encourage his growing independence. We appreciate the chance to check-in and share with our kids, and better understand what they’re dealing with and going through. It will be one of the few things I hope we maintain with the same consistency once we are past the pandemic.

How are you connecting with your child? What type of conversations are you having at the dinner table?

Enjoying Exercise

Have you found your child more sedentary since COVID began?

My oldest has always been active. You rarely see him sitting or laying around, he’s always moving, dribbling or throwing a ball, or getting out doors. My youngest has been active-resistant. 😊 We’ve always encouraged moving your body as something needed to live a long healthy life. My son gets it, but it’s not been a great motivator for him. We’ve exposed him to different ways he can move (outside of walking and exercise), but he’s resisted. Until his older brother asked him to work out with him.

Imagine our surprise when our youngest eagerly went to work out with his brother. Our oldest has really taken to physical fitness and saw an opportunity to engage with his brother. He asked me about it prior to asking his brother. “I want him to live a long, healthy life. I want him to be around for a while.” I smiled and said, “You know what this says about you, right?” “I don’t know,” he answered, “that he should exercise?” “No,” I said, “that you care about your brother. That you love him.” He suppressed his smile until he couldn’t any longer. “Yea, I guess you’re right,” he concluded.

It is neat to see our sons come together with this activity. My husband and I have done some self-reflection and asked ourselves —shouldn’t we be doing this for our youngest son? But we agreed that he would have fought us, and done anything we asked half-heartedly, while working out with his brother is something he enjoys. And instead of doing the minimum being asked, he’s doing his best. I think he realizes he’s brother cares about him too. Bonus!

What is your child doing to stay active during the pandemic? How are you or a family member helping them?

First Day Jitters

How did your child’s school year start?

My oldest is starting high school (gulp), and while school being remote lessened some of his first day jitters, it didn’t eliminate them.

Our son stressed about how the first day would go. Not about getting lost in the new school, or worrying about how he’d fit in, but about when to connect online, how to, and what his schedule was going to be.

My husband and I tried to reassure him that that everyone was working hard to get schedules done and communicate the details out to students. He was in the same boat with his classmates and needed to have some patience. He wasn’t convinced. I didn’t realize how stressed he was until I got an email from one of his teachers with details on a class. Trying to show my son he didn’t have anything to worry about, I decided to have a little fun with him. I genuinely thought he’d catch on to my ‘being silly’ immediately. “I got a note from your teacher,” I said. His shoulders relaxed. “It’s a sewing class.” His shoulders tightened again. Ah oh, I thought, I was expecting ‘a yea, right!’ Not tightened shoulders. “Sewing? I’m not taking sewing!” He was overreacting and, while I should have let him off the hook, I decided to let it play out a little longer. “Yea, sewing. It’s a good skill to have.” “I am not taking sewing!” he said. His stress was way up. I decided to let him know the truth. “I’m kidding kiddo, the note is from your PE teacher.” I smiled. I didn’t know how he’d react. He smiled relieved. “Mom,” he laughed. “Sorry, I just wanted to have a little fun with you.” He was happy to have a class he wanted, and I was relieved he wasn’t upset with me.

There were some technical challenges we suffered through on the first day (with computer apps, etc.), but otherwise he had a good first day. At the end of the day he was happy. It clearly went better than he’d expected. All those jitters for nothing, right? Yet, we all feel them particularly when we are doing something new (school, new job, new city).

We don’t know how the school year will unfold, but are grateful to have first day jitters behind us.

How are you helping your child acclimate to the new school year?

Assume Accountability

Have you assumed your child was thinking or feeling a certain way, and learned later you were wrong?

My oldest is a challenging person to read. He is a young man of few words. You have to work on him to drag out what he’s thinking. It can be easy to assume I know what he’s thinking or how he feels if I don’t spend the time to find out.

We had decided to go walk after dinner as a family. I was busy trying to get some remaining emails out for work while getting my shoes on to walk. I was half-listening to the conversation my husband was having with my oldest son. My husband and son were talking about how something was annoying. My oldest said, “Mom, you know what else is annoying?” My knee jerk reaction was that he was going to say “me” I’m not exactly why — I’d been holding him more accountable and knew he wasn’t super happy about that (who ever is?) and thought he might voice his disdain by taking a shot at me (to test me holding him accountable again?). I assumed wrong. I said, “I really don’t want to know.” “Why?” he asked. “Because I don’t want to hear it’s me.” “Why would I say it’s you?” he asked. “Well, you tell Mom how boring, or uncool, or whatever I am sometimes. I just figured you were just adding to the list.” He looked hurt, wounded almost, that I would think this of him. It was one of those moments as a parent where you pause and question your logic and thinking — realizing you’ve made a mistake (misunderstood, misjudged the situation, etc.). “Well, I was going to say Gator fans,” he concluded with a diminishing smile. He was trying to engage me in something he thought would make me smile (he knows I am no fan of my rival school’s mascot), maybe even laugh, and I hadn’t allowed him to do it. I hated that I hadn’t just said “what?” when he first asked the question.

I reflected on the exchange following our walk. By assuming what my son was thinking and how he would respond, I had indeed made an error. I reminded myself that he’s a teen and I’m the adult. His full frontal cortex is still forming, and mine is mature. I need to be the adult and not assume my child is out to push buttons or minimize my role, or challenge my love for him. I need him to know I am the adult, he is loved regard of what he says, and I should never put words in his mouth (or decide in my mind what he’s going to say before he’s said it). If I need to hold him accountable for saying something insensitive or hurtful I will. As the adult, it’s my job. At the same time, I need to hold myself accountable and hear him out first, and let him speak. And remember the downsides of assuming.

Have you ever assumed wrong about what your child has said or done, or about their intentions? How do you hold your child and yourself accountable?

I will be off next week, but back following. Happy Labor Day!