Fall Inspired

Did you know you can order a frappucino with no coffee in it? Now you might be thinking what’s the point, and I would agree, except my oldest son is hooked on Pumpkin Spice frappucinos. 

It started innocently enough over the summer when we were with family and someone ordered an extra s’mores frappucino and had no one to take it. The drink looks enough like a shake that my son said,  “I’ll try it.” After one gulp he was a fan. 

Since the Fall-Inspired drinks have come out he’s been eager to make a pilgrimage, at least once a week, to get one (Starbucks will substitute cream for the espresso — that was my son and my’s compromise). My boys started talking in the car on a recent evening about the drink and the inspiration for it. My youngest hasn’t had one and isn’t interested. Instead he shared he likes Halloween-Inspired drinks. “Like what?” his older brother asked. “I don’t know,” he pondered for a moment, “like cider, I guess.” “That’s not Halloween-Inspired,” said his brother, “it’s Fall-Inspired too!” I have to admit it was amusing to listen to them argue the merits of Fall-Inspired vs. Halloween-Inspired for a few minutes. Their conversation reminded me of the smells, looks, tastes and experience we associate with each season. Fall, in particular. What’s not to like?

I like that my boys are picking up on the senses of the season too. Regardless if it’s Fall or Halloween-Inspired.

What do you and your child like most about the season?

Falling in Love — Don’t Go Changing

Who was your first crush? How did you let them know you liked them? Were you yourself, or did you change yourself to try to be what you thought they’d want you to be?

My youngest is learning about love. He has had a girlfriend for several years. He adores her, and has already planned out their future life (where they’ll live, the number of kids they’ll have and their names). But, he has a new friend at school who insists she loves him. She’s new to his class and sits next to him.

With my youngest being on the autism spectrum, he struggles with social cues. Picking up on others non-verbal communication (facial expression, body stance, proximity, etc.) and sometimes struggles with their meaning. He often takes others very literally, but in the case of this young woman, he is confused when she says “I love you.”

I recently went to my son’s school to see him participate in a fundraiser (Walk-a-thon). His classmate was there and he introduced me. She said “Seriously?” with a nervous giggle. And when my son confirmed I was indeed his mom she said, “Well, please don’t take him away from me because I really like talking to him.” I was a little confused by this statement because there was no discussion prior around anyone taking anyone else away.  After watching my son with her for a little while I started to understand why this girl had feelings for my son.

My son doesn’t have many friends. He is a very lovable kid, but not understanding social cues has made it difficult for him to truly bond with others. This girl likes my son as he is. She doesn’t expect him to act a certain way, or want him to change. My son only knows how to be himself. He likes talking to this girl. He likes that she likes him as he is. He is excited by the prospect of having a friend. What I picked up at the Walk-a-thon was that my son is showing this girl attention she isn’t used to, he accepts her as she is, and isn’t looking for her to change. I know if I ever came across a boy who had so easily accepted me as I was at their age, I probably would have liked him too.

Now my son is dealing with a girl who doesn’t understand the way my son’s mind works, and mistakes his interest in having a friend, as him being interested in her as more than a friend. She recently wrote him a letter that he brought home. It read something to the effect of, “Are you mad at me? I hope not, because I love you and I miss talking to you. Please don’t break my heart.” It broke my heart reading it. She is so courageous to be so open and sure about her feelings. My son doesn’t love her. My son does like having a friend, and thinks this girl is nice. I’m not sure how she will understand that. My son has tried telling her, “I just want to be friends” after getting some coaching from my husband and his older brother, but she seems to be holding out hope that he will change his mind.

As a young person, I would have been crushed if I had had the guts to tell a boy I liked him and then he rejected me (telling me he just wanted to be friends would have felt like a rejection). When I was their age, I didn’t have the guts. I am aware of how we form opinions of who we are and what we have to offer the world early in life. When we don’t feel like we are accepted or our affections reciprocated it allows the seed of “I’m not good enough” to take hold. I don’t want my son’s friend to not feel she’s good enough. I’m not sure my son could or would handle it differently if he didn’t have the challenges that come with being on the spectrum. Maybe he would have not be so open to being friends with her, maybe he would have been more conscientious about how he was behaving around her or other girls. I’d rather him be who is as he is. Not getting caught up in ‘appearances’ — what you look like, who you’re friends with, what activities you’re into, where you live, etc. — is refreshing. People like this are rare. I get why this young person loves my son. I only hope that she can accept he likes her as she is, and she can like herself that way too.

How have you stayed true to who you are in relationship? How are you helping your child avoid the “I’m not good enough” seed from starting to grow?

When Prayers and Thoughts Aren’t Enough

How did you talk to your child about what happened in Las Vegas?

What happened was terrifying. Unimaginable. Sad. And so very, very disappointing. I struggled to find the words to share with my boys. I decided to let them know that a lot of people were killed and injured in Las Vegas and they weren’t sure why the gunman did it. I let them ask the questions from there.

I struggle why we as a country can’t address this issue. I struggle why we, as parents, can’t band more together in an effort to address this, for no other reason then allowing our kids to grow up in a safer environment. Every time we don’t address this we are saying gun laws as they are are sufficient. Do they feel sufficient to you? They don’t to me.

My kids ask why gun laws aren’t better? Why there isn’t a national registry? Why aren’t more people outraged by this and demanding action?

I tell them that a majority of people want better gun laws but don’t know how to make it happen. I know I feel, at times, hopeless to make change. It’s obvious we need better gun laws and better protections for all of our citizens, yet those in power — that ultimately can do something about it — aren’t. And when my kids ask, “Why?” I tell them that the people in charge are more interested in staying in power than protecting the people. They hide behind the Second Amendment as if our Founding Fathers intended it to allow people to not only bare arms for protection, but let anyone who feels like firing a gun to do so. It’s ridiculous.

Each time we go through one of these traumas we hear from our leaders, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.” And while this is an appropriate sentiment, it’s a pretty empty statement coming from those in charge who actually have the power to do something about it. I’d rather hear, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and we’re taking action to ensure this never happens again.”

I’m mad. I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. And I’m more than angry that I can’t do a darn thing to better protect my family. There feels like there is no safe place anymore. I can’t live my life in fear and don’t want my kids to. But how do you do that when the people who are supposed to protect you, refuse to take the steps needed to?

How are you talking to your child about what happened in Las Vegas? If you are as upset as I am, how are you letting your voice be hard, and your leaders know?

Following are some of the groups that are trying to help us address this (click on the name to go to their site). To them I say, “THANK YOU!”

Sandy Hook Promise

Moms Demand Action

Parents Against Gun Violence

Every Town for Gun Safety

 

 

 

Dealing with the Consequence

How do you handle discipline?

Some days I wish I were a stricter parent. That way when I’m handing out a consequence to my child, I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable about it.

My oldest continues to adjust to middle school. Some days are good, others not so much. He had a bad day this week and decided to direct his displeasure at me. I talked to him calmly (as I always try to do with my kids) and asked him to take a breath, calm down, think about what you’re saying to no avail. I then went into warning mode — “if you can’t calm down and stop this behavior you are going to go straight to bed when we get home,” (mind you it was not much after 5 p.m.). I didn’t want to send him to his room but his behavior needed a consequence. He challenged me. “No you’re not. You’re going to come in my room, talk to me, and then I’m going to get out of my room.” Whoa, I thought, my son is right. I normally do talk to him about his behavior and do back off the consequence — he still has one, but it’s not as extreme as the first. I decided in that moment that I had to stay firm to the consequence I’d handed him. I wasn’t doing him any favors by letting him off the hook. “Not this time. You’re staying in your room and that’s that,” I said. I didn’t get an “I hate you” which surprised me, though I wouldn’t doubt he was thinking it. Instead I got a “this is stupid” which is what he says when he struggles with something or has a different view from someone else. “It’s not stupid. It’s necessary,” I continued, “the point of a consequence is so you learn from it, and hopefully don’t repeat the behavior again.” “Well, I’m going to do this again,” my son claimed. “Well, then I guess you’re going to have to get used to being in your room,” I concluded, “I always hated being in my room, I thought it was really boring, and when my parents handed me that consequence I usually learned from it, and I hope you do too.” He groaned and huffed off.

When we got home he dropped his back and went to his room. He slammed the door for affect. I didn’t go in and talk with him. I just let him sit. After an hour he said, “Okay, I get it, I’m grounded!” I didn’t respond. Just let him sit.

It’s not easy to let my child suffer the consequence of their actions, but its needed. When I don’t enforce the consequence I’m telling him he can get out of things or won’t be held accountable, and I fully expect that out in the world others will hold him accountable.

How do you handle giving your child a consequence when it makes you uncomfortable? How are you keeping your child accountable?

At the Crossroads of Raising an Independent Child

Are you trying to raise an independent child?

I am. I was raised to be independent, it was a conscious decision on my parents part. They were involved in my life — they taught me manners, how to be safe, led groups I participated in, they advocated when they needed to for me, came to every recital, game or event we were participating in and cheered me on — all while teaching me to be independent. I was taught how to take care of my space, learning how to set the table, clean-up (table, room, house), vacuum and wash clothes. I was taught how to earn money, encouraged to get a job when I turned 16. They encouraged me to play sports, music, etc. and try new things. They gave me the skills I needed to go out into the world on my own.

I have always taught my kids about safety, though I’m always unsure how effective what I’ve taught them will be (I hope it will be sufficient); I’ve taught them manners (which we are still working on); and my kids have responsibilities around the house, and are encouraged by us to try new things, but know there are still many my skills my husband and I need to teach our kids.

As I’ve previously shared, my oldest is in middle school and is still adjusting to all the changes that have occurred. We got him a flip phone (his first phone) when he started school so he can stay in touch with us so we know he’s gotten to school or is on his way home. The flip phone was chosen because of the limited capability it has. It was a conscious decision on our part. My son first started with only texting me as we had discussed — when he got to school and we he was on his way home. Then he started adding a phone call into the mix. Or two. Or three. He doesn’t seem to understand mom has a job and can’t always grab the phone right away (though he does know I’ll call him back as soon as I can). And while I love the fact that my son wants to talk to me — whether he’s calling to tell me about his day or a struggle he had, I feel like I’m at a crossroads. Almost like a mother bird that has pushed her son out of the nest only to let her baby bird come back onto the ledge of the nest to hang out. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to my son. I am so grateful he wants to call me and talk, but I wonder if I’m delaying his ability to be independent. I did not have a phone when I went to school. I had to figure out how to get where I needed to be when I needed to be there, and I only called my mom or dad when there was an emergency (I can remember this happened once in high school when my car had a problem and I needed my dad’s help to figure out where to get the car towed to). I remember not wanting to bother my dad at work, but couldn’t think of any other way to handle the situation. My dad was grateful I called, but that only happened once. In reflection, I feel like my parents had pushed me out of the nest — it wasn’t a ‘don’t come back’, it was a ‘you’ve got this, don’t like us hold you back.’ I don’t want to hold my son back. I want him to have confidence in his ability to navigate situations and feel empowered to do so.

I’m not sure what the future holds, but I am aware that my husband and I need to be thinking about how we are helping our children be independent — successful on their own. Of course I don’t want my child to pull away from me, but I believe this is a necessary for them to truly grow.

Thankfully I have time, but I’m at a crossroads, and hoping I pick the right path.

How are you helping your child be independent?

 

What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?

Getting to Know You

How well do you know your child?

As a parent, I’d like to think I know my kids pretty well, but my assessment was recently put into question. As I’ve shared, my youngest son is on the autism spectrum. After meeting with a specialist, my husband and I were provided with suggested readings to help us better understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There were several books that were recommended, along with a workbook. I ordered all the material in hopes that they would be useful. Some were intended for my son. Some were intended for my husband and I (and my son’s teachers). I wasn’t sure how my son would react when I showed him the material. Would he be upset? Or relieved? Or something else?

When the first couple of books came, I showed them to him. Because my son’s biggest challenge is picking up on social cues, we started with You are a Social Detective! Explaining Social Thinking to Kids by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke. My son and I read through the book. It was very insightful, but I wasn’t sure how much he really was following and retaining. It’s a great reference book that we’ll need to read and re-read to ensure it sinks in. The next book I shared with him was Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder. My son really liked this book. “Wow! Sir Isaac Newton had autism? Albert Einstein?” he said. You could tell he felt that instead of being deficient for being on the spectrum he was in elite company with some of history’s most famous people. Then we came upon Asperger’s…What Does It Mean to Me? A workbook explaining self-awareness and life lessons to the child or youth with high functioning autism or Asperger’s by Catherine Faherty. This book was a godsend. My son and I started reading the workbook together. It walks through different topics explaining how children on the autism spectrum may think, feel or look at situations differently than someone who is not. Then it asks the child to self-assess and answer what is true from them. Talk about getting to know your child. My son started having lightbulb moments–understanding how others without autism may experience something versus how he does–he was gaining clarity around his autism and so were my husband and I. As we read through the workbook together, our son learned more about himself, my husband and I learned more about ASD, and more about our son and how he experiences the world. It was (and is) priceless. Assumptions we had made were dispelled and unknowns were replaced with information about our son. After completing the workbook I believe I understand my son and ASD much better. It was so insightful, we talked to our son and asked if he would be willing to share the workbook with his teachers and staff who work with him so they can better understand him as well. He agreed. “What about grandma and grandpa? Or your aunts and uncles? Can we share it with them?” I asked. “Sure!,” he said. I loved his enthusiasm and willingness to share with those who love and care about him.

We are excited about finding this workbook and the other wonderful material that is helping us better understand our son. There is no greater feeling, in my opinion, then having knowledge to help you navigate life. It’s challenging enough. Having this information feels like blinders have been lifted and we can better take on this new(er) terrain.

How well do you know your child? What material (book, course, etc.) have you come across that has helped you better understand them?

The Haircut — A Mom’s Confession

Do you remember a haircut from your childhood that you were particularly fond or, or embarrassed by?

My oldest son, who is entering middle school this year, is becoming more concerned with his appearance.  Up until recently he preferred I give the stylist instructions, but over the past year he’s decided he wants to have some input, and I supported him. I can remember having some haircuts I hated as a teen — a prem on already wavy hair (I looked like a poodle), having my hair cut so short it made my face look very round (not a look any teen wants), or putting ‘Sun-In’ in my hair (that was no one’s fault but mine) — I had two-toned hair for months — ugh! — and wished I’d been encouraged to give more input before and during the haircut (I would have begged to have my hair colored back to it’s natural color during my Sun-In phase once I stopped using it if I could have).

I was impressed by the input my son gave. “I want the hair cut short not just around my ears, but all the way around in the back,” he said. “Oh, and I don’t want any sideburns, I don’t like them.” I didn’t even realize he knew what sideburns were, and his were slight, but he was clear. He didn’t want any. The hairdresser obliged and he got a great cut. He was very pleased. Months passed, and being into sports like he is, he has a sense for how athletes use their hair to make a statement, and decided that he too, needed a ‘sportier’ haircut. He decided instead of going to the same place we’ve gone to since he was a baby, he was ready for the barber shop. My husband took him and showed him the ropes. My son got more familiar with clipper numbers and enjoyed bonding with his dad. He, once again, gave the barber instructions on how he wanted his haircut and the barber obliged. My son was happy. I, on the other hand, thought my son’s hair looked ‘okay’ but could be better, but held my tongue.

This is one of those parent dilemmas: when do you let your child look a certain way  whether it’s hair, clothes, make-up, and when do you say something? I grew up hearing most mornings “are you going to wear that?”, which I hated, and decided long ago that I did not want to repeat this with my son, but I did just that. A few weeks after my son got his hair cut (and I held my tongue ever so briefly) I asked him if he would be willing to see another stylist that mom knew (this is a woman I’ve seen for years and I’ve seen her do amazing cuts on men and women and knew she could give my son a great cut). “No, I’m good,” my son said. I didn’t give up so easy. “I like your cut, but know someone who can give you a really great sports cut — like Rinaldo,” I had his attention. “Well, maybe,” he replied. I decided not to push it…but that only lasted a few days. “You know you’re hair is going to be bothering you soon (it always does when it starts to get even a little long), just let me make this appointment and if you don’t like the cut I’ll never suggest going there again.” That seemed to do it. “Okay,” he said. I made the appointment. I prepped him on what would happen — he would be going  to an adult salon (not a barber shop). The stylist would walk him through the cut. He could ask any questions that he wanted, and he could tell her what he did and didn’t want. The haircut began. My stylist walked him through a haircut and, with his input, he went with a sporty-fade. She educated him on the different terminology and tools and helped him feel more comfortable about his hair. She talked him through styling techniques and products to use to help him ‘rock his haircut’ whenever he wanted to. The whole time I was a nervous wreck. I had great trust in my hairdresser, but was questioning the choice I was making as a parent. I had brought him here. This was my idea. What if he hated the cut and the experience? He would lose trust in me if he felt he has been mislead. Had I made a mistake?

I was fortunate in that the cut turned out great. He was ecstatic. He got out of the chair and said, “Mom, I just got the perfect haircut. I love it.” My son doesn’t say such things easily. I have rarely seen him this happy. I’ve experienced a great haircut high so I knew what my son was feeling. He really liked the way he looked, and believe him understanding more about the mechanics of a haircut, and being educated on the terminology and products really helped.

I learned another lesson, or to put it more accurately, was reminded of something I already knew — that I need to let my son decide what he wants to look like and be okay with it. The stress I was feeling during the cut was not fun. Of course, I want my son to feel good about his appearance, but part of growing up is experimenting with your look. You have to have a few ‘what was I thinking’ or ‘I can’t believe I ever thought that looked good’ moments to appreciate how far you’ve come. It won’t be easy, but I need to let him be him.

What haircuts do you remember from your childhood? Have you ever intervened to ‘improve’ your child’s appearance? If so, how did you feel afterwards?

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?