Solar Eclipse

Are you and your family excited about the upcoming eclipse?

Living in the Pacific NW, we know many families who will be making the trek to see the eclipse as it passes through Oregon. There is a lot of excitement, with talk of the upcoming eclipse on the news almost daily.

My family will not be making the trek. We were fortunate to have a lot of time hiking in the National Parks in July and need to stay put for the time being — though we did pick up some “Eclipse Shades” while we were there, and are looking forward to seeing a partial eclipse from where we live.

My boys asked me what the big deal was about the eclipse. “Why do so many people want to see it?” one asked. “Its rare, the moon will cross in front of the sun’s path and we won’t see the sun for a while” I explained. “The last total solar eclipse that went across the US happened when your mom was a kid.” That caught their attention. “Will we be able to see any of it?” my other son asked. “They say we’ll see a partial eclipse from here,” I shared. That seemed to satisfy them.

We don’t often get excited about seeing the sun and take it for granted. The eclipse has reminded my sons of the sun’s importance and even peaked their scientific minds in better understanding how our solar system works. It’s peaked my curiosity too. I don’t recall anyone making a big deal about the eclipse when I was a kid, and don’t remember making any effort to see it. I will make the effort this time.

Will your family be taking in the eclipse? Are you traveling to see the full eclipse or staying put?

An Uncertain Future

With a new school year right around the corner, there is a lot of angst in our house. What will the new school year be like? Will my children fit in, make friends and be okay?

As parents, we ask ourselves these questions each year.

This year, my family will be at another crossroads. My oldest will be heading off to middle school. There is a lot of angst for him, even though he will be going to a school with many familiar faces, the unknown is concerning to him. The school is much larger than his elementary school (with almost 3x the number of students). It would be overwhelming to anyone. Throw in that he is quickly becoming a teen, and all that comes with it — being more self conscious and concerned with how others view you — and your anxiety would rise too. I remember middle school and I shudder. Of all my school years, it’s those that I wish I could have skipped. They were awkward, I never felt comfortable in my own skin, and experienced a heightened sense of needing to survive to get through those years. I’m desperately trying not to project my experience on my son, and am hopeful his time in middle school will be much better mine.

My younger will be in elementary school for the first time on his own. Of course, he too has many classmates who are familiar to him, but I’m anxious about how he will do on his own. Part of me knows I need to give him more credit. He’s a resilient kid, and will figure it out.

As a parent, I’m reminded during times like these how much is out of our control. I can certainly try to help my children prepare for the school year, but ultimately they will be the ones going to school and while I can help them as much as possible up front, I have to let go and let them fail or succeed on their own.

Parenting is tough when the future is uncertain. Have I done all I can to prepare them (with knowledge, insights, strategies for how to deal with different situations, etc.)? I guess we will see.

How do you help your kids get ready for the new school year? How do you help them navigate being in a new environment?

 

Hanging Out

My oldest son used to go on play dates, but not anymore.

At his school’s Field Day, I was introduced to one of his classmate’s mom when her son and mine ran up to us. “Mom, mom, can K come over?” my son asked. I looked at K’s mom. “Would you all be up for a play date?” My son looked horror struck. He quickly said, “Mom, we don’t call them play dates anymore, you call it hanging out or chilling,” (while throwing in some hand gestures to ensure I understood he was ‘cool’). 🙂  I could tell I had unintentionally embarrassed my son by using the wrong lingo, so I quickly corrected myself. “Can K come over to hang out this weekend?” We set a time up when K could come over.

When my son and I were alone in the car later he said, “Mom, play dates are what little kids do. I’m not a little kid anymore.” He’s right, he’s not. I catch myself still using ‘baby/little kid’ talk too often. I recently asked, “Does anyone need to go potty before we leave?” My boys both responded, “Mom (in a long drawn out way that indicated I should know better), it’s called the bathroom, and yes we’ve both used it!” I’ve realized two things: 1) my boys are indeed growing up, and 2) I’ve got to revisit my vocabulary — because I don’t want to embarrass them (I know I hated being embarrassed even unintentionally by my parents growing up), and using older language allows me to acknowledge that they are indeed getting older.

Has anyone else caught themselves doing this? If so, how are you catching yourself and modifying your language?

Into the Wilderness

Anyone like exploring new territory?

I love finding parallels in life and parenting. Hiking into new terrain is much like parenting — there is always a new path or trail — sometimes the view is beautiful, sometimes it is challenging; you can feel safe and confident and other times lost and scared — what are you supposed to do next? The more you hike, the more prepared you feel to handle the unexpected. Much like parenting. Though you can still be caught off guard from time to time when you face something new, regardless of your preparation or past experience.

We will be doing some hiking this summer, and while I’m looking forward to spending time with my kids, I stepping into the wilderness in a more parental way. Our son has autism. He is high functioning but exhibits some tell-tale signs that he is on the spectrum: arms flapping when he’s interested in something or he gets excited (often paired with a humming sound); and struggling with picking up on some social cues. We have known this for several years, and have enlisted the help of several professionals to help us and him. With that said, my husband and I hadn’t shared our son’s diagnosis with him, nor spoke about it openly (outside of talking with teachers, counselors and other professionals) until now. My reluctance to talk about it openly was not because I was embarrassed or ashamed, but because I didn’t want a label attached to him–I didn’t want people to think of him as being ‘different’ or less than (because he isn’t). I didn’t want it do define him — what he’s capable of and who he is and will be. I convinced myself that by keeping quiet I was protecting him and, if I’m being completely honest, also protecting myself — somehow I felt like his diagnosis was a failure on my part (yes, I realize that is not rational). I didn’t want to have to discuss with the situation with family or friends. I didn’t want to shine a spotlight on it. In talking with an therapist she told me it was time to embrace the diagnosis, let my son in on what he was dealing with so he understood his own behavior and why it was different.  I am the adult in the situation and have grown a thicker skin. And while I may be concerned that sharing this could draw judgment, or pity; I know that those that love my son and our family will be supportive and caring. My son needed to know, and I needed to get over my fears.

We sat our son done and explained his diagnosis. “Being on the spectrum simply means your brain works differently than others. You have advantages that others don’t because you are on the autism spectrum. And you have disadvantages,” we told him. We shared examples of where he is advanced (academics, conversations with adults and younger children) and where he is challenged (building relationships with his peers/friendship; controlling how he expresses interest/excitement). We sat our older son down and explained to him what was going on as well. We thought it was important he understand what his brother was dealing with, and why his brother does what he does. “His brain is wired this way,” we told him. “If someone asks you why your brother is acting weird/strange/differently, you say, “that’s just my brother being my brother” and leave it at that.”

I’m grateful for organizations like Autism Speaks. And the awareness that is being brought by parents and the medical field on this topic. Yet this still feels very unfamiliar to me. It’s almost as though I’ve been studying a map for a while, and I’ve decided to start on my journey through unchartered territory. I am going into the wilderness. Its new. Its scary. I think I’m prepared, but am I? Will I encounter something new I’m not prepared for?  I know I’m going to make mistakes. I know I am going to learn. I am praying I do right by my son and our family.

How do you navigate unfamiliar territory? How do you handle talking about uncomfortable topics?

I will be taking a few weeks off to enjoy the summer with family and will be back in August.

To Grandma’s House You Go

What special memories do you have of your time with your grandparents?

Our boys are fortunate. They have two sets of very loving grandparents that they will get to visit with this summer. The good news is the grandparents love them and are eager to spend time with them (and thankfully in good health), the bad news is the grandparents live far away. Both sets are across the country.  We decided this year, our boys are old enough to visit both sets of grandparents by themselves. Sending my boys on a plane without us is one of the most stressful things I’ve done, but I know they are going towards people that love them a lot and can’t wait to see them.

While concerned about them while they travel to see their grandparents, I also worry about their behavior (and what it will be) once they get there. Will they be on their best behavior? Will they act up (talk back to Grandma and Grandpa, whine, complain, etc.)? What will Grandma and Grandpa do if (when) this happens?

Grandparents vary, right? Some just want to love on their grandchild(ren) — give them hugs, take them places and maybe buy them things. They are happy to spend time with them in whatever form. There are others that want the time spent together to be more meaningful — teaching values, morals, life lessons, etc. One accepts the grandchild as they are. The other wants (or hopes) to mold the grandchild. Some grandparents are a blend of both, and others nothing like what I’ve mentioned above. Most grandparents though do share one thing in common: they love their grandkids.

In preparation for their first trip, my husband and I, assuming our kids would have their moments (e.g. they would ‘act up’ at some point), gave them some ground rules to help them (and their grandparents) enjoy their time together:

1. Don’t complain — if you don’t like what is being asked of you (wake up at a certain time, help with something, eat a new food, etc.) either a) suggest an alternative politely *or* b) just do what is being asked (arguing will just delay the inevitable and make everyone miserable)

2. Ask upfront for permission on screen time — grandparents want to spend time with you, not your gadgets. Grandparents are not unreasonable, so ask them what screen time they can live with. Determining this upfront will help with heart ache later.

3. Suspend bathroom humor — Grandma and Grandpa will not find it nearly as funny as you do

4. Have fun — there are so many neat things you get to do with Grandma and Grandpa — going fishing, swimming, eating ice cream, etc. — focus on what’s in front of you (the people, the place, the experience), not what you’re missing out on (e.g. another game of Madden Mobile or cartoon you’ve already seen a dozen times).

I am so thankful our boys have both sets of grandparents and can make memories with them. I know my boys will appreciate those memories much more when they are older.

Will my boys behave while their away? I’m not as concerned with them behaving as I am with both my sons and their grandparents appreciating the opportunity they have to share wonderful memories together. I know I treasure memories I had with mine.

What special memories does your child have with their grandparents? How are they creating new memories together?

5th Grade Graduation

How much fanfare surrounded your 5th grade graduation?

There was none for mine, and I don’t mean a little, I mean there was none, zero, nada. The general consensus was everyone should be graduating 5th grade or there was a bigger problem that needed to be addressed.  Clearly times have changed, and now there is a desire to more frequently celebrate these milestones. I just didn’t know there would be so many activities. A graduation ceremony seemed a little over the top to me, but then I started getting the notices: Don’t Forget the 5th Grade breakfast, Don’t Forget the 5th Grade Field Trip, Send Pictures for the Baby Picture Wall, Who Can Help with the Legacy Project, etc. Wow, times have changed.

It has been fun digging up old pictures (though challenging after a long days work) and reminiscing around just how far we’ve come. It was fun going to the breakfast and catching up with other parents and recalling first days at school, and how our children, who were once very attached to us are now wanting their space. My son wanted me at the breakfast, but didn’t want to interact with me per se at the breakfast. 🙂 Not to worry, I remember being his age. I was pulling away from my parents as well trying to find myself, just as he is finding his. It is hard to believe that he’ll be moving up to middle school. I’ve relished the protective cocoon of elementary school and dreaded the day he’d move into a less protected space. He feels and I feel it. It’s hard not to acknowledge that time is passing and things are changing. And while I initially felt the school might be over-doing it with all the 5th Grade graduation activities, I’m appreciating it more and more. As the school year nears it’s end, I’m clinging to every day desperately wanting to slow time. My son’s growing up. Time will keep moving. I’m going to cherish every minute.

How are you celebrating your child’s milestones?

I will be off for the holiday weekend and back in July. Happy 4th!

 

Dads Matter

Today we celebrate our father’s, and the father of a child(ren), and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to highlight mine. Some of the greatest moments I’ve had with my dad was when he was present, paying attention, acknowledging me, sharing advice or insight, coaching me, encouraging me, cheering me on, picking me up and telling me, “yes you can.”

Some of my favorite moments as a spouse has been watching my husband be a dad. When he is present with our boys, paying attention to them (and I mean really paying attention), trying new things with them that they like (even if he doesn’t), finding common ground even when it isn’t easy, being self-aware enough to admit mistakes and work to correct them.

I enjoy how much my sons love their dad. My oldest was excited about the prospect of Father’s Day coming up several weeks back. “Mom, I want to get Dad a gift this year!” he shared. He had seen a t-shirt online that said “The Best Dads are Made in ____” (and you could pick your state of choice).  He was so excited about giving it to his dad. It made me really happy to see him so excited about giving a gift to someone he loves so much. Of course, my husband loved the shirt. I think he’s still in a bit of shock our son came up with this gift idea all on his own.

Being a parent is hard. Moments when our parents were there for us mattered. It meant something. Being there for our kids now matters. Whether they show it to us in the form of t-shirt that says “The Best Dads are Made in ____” or hug, or a head nod, it matters.

Thank you to all the dads out there, with a special thanks to my husband and my dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

Talk to Me

How would you rate your communication between you and your child?

Growing up, I would have told you I had good communication with my parents. I openly shared with them what was going on in school and with me personally. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I realized my communication with my parents was probably closer to okay than good. I never felt comfortable talking in any great depth to my parents about the important stuff–kids being mean at school, my body, feelings of insecurity, the opposite sex, the act of sex, and more. I held back sharing information out of embarrassment or feeling foolish (shouldn’t I know how this works?). I don’t think I was much different than my peers, I think that’s how many of us grew up.

My husband and I have been committed to having better communication with our kids then we had with our parents. We try to talk more openly about the body and sex and allow our kids to ask questions about anything. We’ve told our boys on a number of occasions that in some areas mom and dad are new talking about these things with kids. Our parents weren’t comfortable or never offered to talk to us somethings and we are navigating new ground. We might mess up, but we’re going to try our best.

My oldest is becoming a young man, and my youngest isn’t far behind. Having our kids talk to us about the uncomfortable stuff makes me grateful (uncomfortable, but grateful). I can see how they could easily decide to only share only the good information, what they think we want to hear, instead of sharing good, not so good, ask questions, and reach out when they are confused or don’t understand how something works, why something happened, etc.. I particularly enjoy when we have a conversation and one of my boys will say, “I’m so dumb, I should know this” and I get to respond, “how in the world could you have already known this? What do you think growing up is all about? If you knew everything already, there would be no point in parenting, we could just birth you and turn you loose in the world.” That always makes them smile. The movie Boss Baby gives them a mental picture of what that would look like, and they find that hilarious.

Navigating parenthood is challenging. As a parent, feeling like you are doing a good job can be fleeting. My barometer is set to how openly my sons feel they can talk to me. If they want to keep talking, hopefully that means my husband and I are doing something right.

How is your communication with your child? How are you helping them feel comfortable to talk to you about uncomfortable things?

Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that?” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?

Mom Appreciation

When was the first time you appreciated your parent or primary caregiver?

I adored my mother as a child. I thought she was the most beautiful, perfect person there was.

I resisted her as a teenager. I looked to her for guidance, but fought for my independence and space to make my own way.

I moved away from her (figuratively and literally) slowly over time — after I finished school, moved away and eventually got married.

Then I had my son. When I had him home for a few days I had an ‘aha’ moment. So this is what it takes to be a parent. This is work. This is hard. Wow, my mom must have really loved me. She made parenting look easy. She always had a confidence in her parenting skills and I never doubted her ability to do the job. In reflection, I am in awe of her and what she accomplished. Now it was my turn, which got me thinking will I be as good a mom to my boys as she was to me? It’s motivated me to try my best to live up to the bar she set everyday since.

As a mom, I think about my boys and how they view me. Am I adored by them? If I am, they hide it well. 🙂 Are they resisting me? A little, for sure. Are they starting to move away? Thankfully no. But one thing I know — they love me, and I, with every ounce of my being, love them.

Thank you, Mom, for everything, and Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all the other moms out there.

I will be taking some time off to enjoy time with family and friends and will be back in June.