The Magic of Pets

How do know your child’s full potential?

There are certainly times when I feel like I see or experience my children’s potential. When one of them pushes themselves to do something new or challenging, but a recent comment from my son got me thinking — how do I (or anyone) really understand my child’s full potential?

My family was getting ready to head out the door for some weekend activities when our cat made his presence known. We each acknowledged the cat with a pet, or scratch behind the ears. My youngest son leaned down to the cat and said, “I love how you…” my husband and I were sure he’d finish with understand me, but we’re surprised when he said, “…see my full potential.” It actually made us laugh. My son joined in. Pets do have a magical quality about them, and do seem to understand our feelings and can feel very insightful, almost psychic, when they come to us in times of need. It can sometimes feel like the pet knows you, sees beyond your exterior and really knows who you are and what you need. I can remember an experience I had when I wasn’t much older than my son is now. I was having a tough time with puberty and adjusting to getting older. I remember sitting outside feeling sad, and my cat at the time, who typically was off on her own adventures during the day, seemed to come out of no where and sat by me. She looked at me like she understood my worries and was there to remind me that I was loved and lovable. It was magic. How I miss that cat.

My husband and I sensed our son was experiencing some of the magic pets have. A unconditional love that comes and doesn’t ask for anything in return except for basic needs (safety, warmth, food and water).

I don’t know if our cat knows my son’s full potential but I like that my son thinks the cat does. We all need someone who believes in us, that pushes us to explore and be our best selves. A loving pet is as good as anyone to help someone see the beauty and potential they have within.

Do you have pets? What magic are they bringing to you or your family’s lives?

That’s What Friends Are For

What makes a good friend?

This question has gotten a lot more attention from me as I’ve navigated the struggles my son on the autism spectrum has with making friends. What does make a good friend? Someone who is kind in the moment? Someone who wants to engage with you in a kind and supportive way? There are varying levels of friendship. I think of the friends who have come in and out of my life. I was reminded what a good friend looks like when a woman I have known for years and who I have shared just about everything with asked me timidly, “When was your son diagnosed?” She asked it in a whispered voice, and did a quick glance to ensure no one around had heard the question. While I was reluctant to talk about my son being on the spectrum when I first found out, I have come a long way — I’m happy to talk about it openly, but I remember that feeling of being unsure and uncomfortable, I was picking up on the way she was asking that she was uncomfortable. I responded, “When he was around five,” I paused and lowered my voice, “What’s going on?” She leaned in and said, “I haven’t really talked about this, but my son has spoken a word yet, and he’s two and a half, and we’re not sure why.” I could almost feel her concern. As a parent, when your child seems to have any affliction — whether it is a disease that is tough to treat, or a condition that makes them different than others — it can feel like you are at a crossroads — the childhood you imagined you and your child having will likely not be how you envisioned it to be, and that can be scary. We decided to find a time we could talk more openly. I wanted her to feel comfortable sharing and asking whatever questions she had.

Prior to us meeting, I thought about how I could best show up for her for this conversation. The truth is we don’t know if her son is on the spectrum, he hasn’t been tested and officially diagnosed, but he does exhibit behaviors similar to my son. I could easily jump to conclusions and give her all the information I’ve gained since my son’s diagnosis, but figured that really wasn’t what she needed. She needed to know that everything was going to be okay. Yes, her parental journey would be altered, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t be joyous, it was just going to be different. She asked me to share my story. I shared and then asked her what she was most concerned about. She was very concerned they hadn’t figured out what was behind her son not talking despite seeing doctors and specialists and enlisting the help of therapists and others. The next step was doing a battery of tests to get her son properly diagnosed. “I’m concerned because I need to figure this out before he turns three,” she shared. “What is special about him turning three?” I asked, thinking about how we hadn’t really enlisted help for our son until five. “That’s when it says you have the best chance of early intervention, but we don’t know what he has.” She admitted to spending too much time on the internet and going into various rabbit holes of information that all seemed to lead to a future life of doom and gloom for her son and her family. As she spoke, I was reminded of my intention coming into this meeting, what would a good friend say? I borrowed a phrase we use with our older son, who is always jumping ahead in his life and concerned about his future. I was seeing the same thing in my friend.

“How long have you been a parent?” I asked. “Well, two years” she said, clearly taken aback by the question. “And how are you supposed to know everything, and have it all figured out in two years?” I said. “Well, I guess, you’re right, there’s no way you can figure it all out in two years.” I finished, “Think of your journey like a video game, each year of your child’s life is a level. Right now, you’re on level 2, stay there, don’t try to be on level 5 or 12 or 35. You’re on 2, you’re going to continue to learn and get smarter. You are going to figure this out.” She smiled. Her shoulders relaxed. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks.” I did end up giving her a few resources that she could reach out to who could give her some sound advice — these resources had been a Godsend to me. As I left our meeting, I thought, I wish I had had a friend or support like this when my son was first diagnosed. There was support available, but I was just too scared to reach out, and I didn’t have any friends talking. I was glad my friend was brave enough to ask. I was glad I could be that support and encouragement. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Are you struggling with raising your child? What does a good friend do to help support you as a parent?

Thank You for Being a Friend

Who is your child’s best friend?

My younger son struggles with friendship. He is great at meeting people where they are as they are, but is challenged making more meaningful connections.

I shared in a previous post about a campfire talk my son and I had about death, and thought we were simply reflecting on some painful experiences of two classmates he had lost (one to illness, one to an accident) and I was helping him deal with, and process, those loses. I didn’t realize, at that time, I was also preparing him for what lie ahead, as my son lost another classmate and friend recently. It was very unexpected and upsetting.

My son’s friend was wheelchair bound and non-verbal, but boy could this child communicate through his facial expressions — whether it was showing joy through a big toothy smile or laugh, or a look of the eye that communicated more than words could say. He made an impact on my son and his classmates. My son invited this friend to his birthday party, and his classmate invited him to his — it was a week away from the party when we got the news that his friend had passed.

My son dealt with it very hard. Understandably so. There was a celebration of life for his friend. We attended with over a hundred others including classmates, teachers, friends, and family. It was a beautiful service with laughter and tears. At the end of the service they asked if anyone wanted to come up to say a few words. My son looked at me and said, “I’m going up. I need to say something.” In this crowd of people my son confidently walked up, took the microphone and said, “He was my best friend. My best friend. I’m going to miss him.” He trailed off and the microphone was handed to another peer.

In the typical sense of the word, this classmate and my son were not “best” friends. Yes, they invited each other to each other’s party, but they didn’t get together after school or even spend much time together on the playground. I asked my son what he meant by best friend. “Well, mom, he accepted as I am.” And I thought that’s what best friends do accept you as you are where you are. And that is what this boy did for my son and vice versa. They each have their own challenges in connecting (whether it was being non-verbal, or being on the autism spectrum), but they could see and appreciate each other better than most.

As we were leaving the service, I couldn’t help but think of this child who was no longer with us and thought thank you for being a friend not only to my son, but many. How blessed we are to have a friend who accepts as where we are as we are.

Who is your child’s best friend?

Cabin Fever

Do you live where there is snow and/or ice?

I have a love/hate relationship with snow. It’s beautiful when it falls, there is something peaceful about it. Yet, when the temperature drops I feel my anxiety rise.

A recent storm happened during the week. As the snow fell, my mind wondered from work and I started fretting about picking up my kids from school. Would the roads be icy? What would traffic be like? Should I head out early? Thankfully, I was able to break away from work and get everyone home safely.

The storm kept my boys out of school for a few days. At first, they loved it. Building a snowman, having a snow ball fight, then coming inside and watching cartoons. They were in heaven for a while, but after a few days their glee turned to boredom. My oldest son even told me, “I hope we can go back to school tomorrow.” You know things are bad when your middle schooler wants to go back to school. 😊

Thankfully the schools were back open the following day. On the heels of this storm, another storm is on its way. You’d think my kids would be happy to have more snow, but they’ve told me they’re ‘over it.’ My sons can’t meet up with friends and do their normal activities. They are feeling restless. They even think our cat has cabin fever (our indoor/outdoor cat hates going out in the snow, but also hates staying indoors all day).

We’re trying to figure out how to spend our time together as we remain home bound. We’re grateful for electricity. We’re grateful for warmth, and a roof over our head. I’m sure we’ll figure it out — whether it’s playing board games, working on puzzles, watching a movie or baking together. I love the time together, but could do without the snow.

Has weather ever kept you and your family at home for an extended period of time? How did you and your family combat cabin fever?

Kid Pride

What makes you proud?

My youngest son starred as Aslan, the lion, in his school’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He has participated in school plays each year, and has had speaking parts, but this year’s role was as one of the lead characters meant more lines to memorize, and more pressure to get things right.

We rehearsed the lines over a few weeks. I was impressed at how much he had learned on his own, and really enjoyed working with him on his lines– it made me feel like I was helping him in some way.

Following the final rehearsal he came out of the dressing room looking down. I could tell he needed some space. I know how tense it can be in the final days of practice and thought maybe some of his fellow actors, or the director had given him some feedback he didn’t want to hear. When we were close to leaving the building we saw the director, who asked my son if he would come early the next night so he and the other leads could work on a couple of scenes. My son broke down. “I’m not having fun anymore. I don’t want to do this.” I was caught off guard by the comment and was thinking how do I get him back onboard? Aslan not being in the play.would be noticed. 😊 Thankfully, the director approached my son in a way that indicated this wasn’t the first time one of her actors had second thoughts about their role. “What’s going on?,” she asked. “People are going to laugh at me. The other actors aren’t taking the play seriously. It’s going to be horrible.” The director gave a knowing look as if she’d had this conversation with many others in the past, and reminded him of plays from previous years “other times we were a lot less prepared than we are now and everything turned out fine.” She spent more time talking my son through the moment, giving other examples about actors who were nervous or stressed or didn’t think others were taking things as seriously. She finished by telling him how important he was to her. “You’ve been acting for me for years, and have grown so much. You don’t realize it now, but you’ve got this. You’re going to do great tomorrow.” She reminded him of the first play he did for her, Elephant and Piggy. He laughed remembering his part from long ago. His demeanor changed. He left the dark cloud he’d been under and seemed to move to a lighter brighter one.

Opening night he was in better spirits. He was relaxed, and seemed more ready. He nailed the performance. I realize I’m his mom, but I’m not sure anyone could have done a better job than he did. All family members who were there couldn’t have been prouder of him, but I don’t think that mattered. What did was that he realized what he was capable of, and that he was proud of himself, and nothing feels as good as that.

What makes your child proud?

Shutdown & Adults Behaving Badly

How were you or your family affected by the government shutdown?

I think we all were. Whether we were directly impacted — having a government job that ceased to pay, or indirectly — those that rely on the services of those government workers that were no longer getting paid, and for what?

There was a range of emotions our family went through as the shutdown extended — anger (this is ridiculous, people are hurting), disbelief (I can’t believe American workers are being made to suffer over a non-crisis), and empathy (what can we do to help those who are hurting because of this?).

As a parent, the greatest threat to undermining our teachings of morals, values and beliefs to our kids (which is a key part of parenting) is adults behaving badly. And what we’ve seen during this shutdown is adults do just that and in the worst way — digging in and abusing their power for their own gain (saving face, pride or an insatiable desire to win at literally any cost). It is sickening to me when I see other adults do this (no less on such a grand scale) and hard to explain to my kids.

“Why are they doing this? Don’t they know they’re really hurting good people?” One son asked. “That’s a great question,” I replied, “Sometimes people make threats to get others to do something they want. People are fighting against the threat, but the way those that shut the government down are fighting — by not paying people — is actually making our country more vulnerable. As a citizen it’s really frustrating to see what’s happened. Even though mom and dad travel for work, I wish the TSA workers would have stopped showing up right from the beginning. I wouldn’t have liked being stuck in another city, but at least the shutdown would have ended sooner and the tactic the leadership was hoping to use to get their way wouldn’t have worked sooner.”

Yes, I probably over explained but I wanted my sons to better understand the situation.

They seemed to understand what I was saying, but I know that it’s doesn’t help my cause as a parent — every time an adult behaves badly, it tells a child that an ideal we ask of our children to strive for, from a behavioral standpoint, is to be questioned. Why do I need to behave when those much older than I who should be setting the example, and are our supposed leaders no less, do not? And so now my sons have a truer sense for how the real world works. Sad.

How are you helping your child understand the shutdown? How do you help them understand a situation better when they see adults behaving badly?

March with Me

What causes are important to you and your family?

My son came home from school in December and said, “Mom, the Women’s March is coming up in January, will you march with me?” I was so consumed with all the holiday obligations going on, it hadn’t crossed my mind what might be coming up in January. “That sounds great, but why are you so interested in doing the March?,” I asked. “Because our teacher gave us a choice — participate in a event for a cause and write a 300-word essay about your experience, *or* don’t participate and write a ten page paper on the topic.” I could see the choice was easy for him. He certainly liked the idea of the shorter written assignment, and I believe he felt a bit ‘left out’ when I marched in the 2017 March without him. He wanted to see what all the buzz was about.

The buzz was noticeably less this year — you’ve potentially heard about factions in the leadership levels, numbers of people thinking why bother, what’s going to change, and there was a part of me that was asking myself the same questions — do I want to do this? There is a million excuses I could use not to walk — I’ve got other things to do, I’m tired, the weather isn’t great, etc. But of course I wanted to participate, even if it wasn’t necessarily convenient — I needed to set an example for my son that there are things worth fighting for, and you have to show up sometimes (even when you’re tired, have other things to get done, etc.) because it’s just that important.

I tried to get my son prepared for smaller numbers at the March, he had heard me tell the store many times how overwhelming (in a good way) it was at the numbers of people who came out in 2017 and I was afraid he’d be disappointed, “there may not be a lot of folks here, I really don’t know what to expect.” He responded soon after we arrived, “Mom, there’s a lot of people here, what were you talking about?” I shrugged. “Guess I was wrong,” I smiled.

The organizers brought up several speakers who spoke on many topics including equality, inclusion and safety for women, kids, LGBTQ, immigrants, the poor and Native Americans. Several people came to the March because they are angry at our country’s leadership, and someone started a chant against the current administration. My son was quick to point out, “This isn’t about Trump. This is about what’s wrong with our country and what we need to do to fix it.” He wanted to spend less time complaining about the problem and hearing ways people could fix it. I was impressed.

We started walking with the crowd, and the number of people participating and cheering on the walkers, seemed to grow as we walked along the route. The atmosphere was very positive and uplifting, people were angry, but being surrounded by so many people that want the same things — working together, being kind to one another, making things safer, more accessible for everyone — reminded me of the good we have in every community.

We finished the March and I asked my son what stood out to him about the day. “The number of people,” he said. We checked the numbers on the way home. I’d underestimated how large the crowd was. I said probably a few thousand were there, my son guessed around 50+ thousand. The news confirmed over 85K came — wow!

I can’t wait to march again next year. I think the teacher’s assignment to have the kids participate in a cause was a brilliant idea. I hope either my son on his own, or by incentive of his teachers asks me the same question next year. “Mom, will you march with me?” Yes. Yes. Yes.

What cause is important to you and your family? What motivates you to take action?

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

What makes your child uncomfortable?

A teacher of my youngest shared that my son was becoming anxious about moving to middle school in the Fall. My son had shared this information with them, and they wanted to make sure my husband and I were aware.

One evening, after we’d had time to get home, eat and decompress for a while, I let my son know that I’d heard he was anxious about the future and wanted to better understand his concern. “What are you most concerned about?” I asked. He put both hands to his forehead. “Well everything!” He paused. “I feel like I’m not going to do well in middle school. 5th grade is harder than 4th.” I could tell by the look on his face he was feeling stress about how he’d navigate the new upcoming unfamiliar territory. He continued, “I do okay in school, but I get bored a lot.” I asked, “Is that because school isn’t challenging enough?” He scoffed, “No, Mom, it’s definitely challenging enough. It’s just I have to learn all this stuff.” I felt like I could almost read his mind, so I offered, “and you’d enjoy it more if they were teaching you about things you were more interested in?” “Yes!” he said. His face relaxed from what I took to be relief at being understood. I asked my son, “Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘a means to an end’?” He shook his head no.”Well, there are some things you have to do in order to get something else. If you want to go to college one day, they’ll expect you to graduate from high school with a degree. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it and do it well to go. You could think of going to school as a means to an end.” He seemed to ponder this for a minute. “But it makes me really uncomfortable thinking about all the work I’ll have to do. How will I figure it out?” I reminded him that he’s only in 5th grade. “What is the point of teachers, aides, parents, etc.? We are all here to help. The unknown can feel scary, and can make you uncomfortable but there are lots of people ready to help you along the way, okay? Life can make us uncomfortable sometimes it’s getting to a place where you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, does that make sense?,” I asked. “Yea, I think so,” he said, “thanks, Mom.” I could tell at this point he was ready to get back to screen time so we ended our talk.

The future can be scary, and make you anxious or uncomfortable, that’s normal. I’ve experienced it as an adult — when I became a parent, when my job responsibilities changed, when I wrote my book and started doing public speaking for example — but I knew if I wanted to achieve goals in life, I needed to embrace the discomfort and knew the best way to lessen the discomfort was with experience.

I feel discomfort when my child comes to me with problems I don’t know how to solve. I guess that’s just life, but I’m glad my child is willing to open up to me. We’ll work through our respective discomfort together.

How you help your child deal with anxiety, stress or discomfort?

Ready Player Two

Do you let your child play video games?

I’ve shared with you before that we don’t have a gaming system in our house. We do have computers, phones and tablets, so while my son sometimes thinks our family not having a XBOX or PlayStation is ‘the worst’ though he’s really not all that deprived.

Over the holidays I was finally able to watch the movie my son had been talking about, Ready Player One. A movie about how gaming had taken over, and the fight to remind us what is really important was on (spoiler alert: connection). 😊 I was surprised at how much I liked this movie. Perhaps it was the nostalgia tied to the 80s throwbacks (music and games), or how smartly the story was told, or the fact that connecting at a human level — friendship, treating others as equals, and finding room to share success — all resonated with me. While the movie was titled Ready Player One, it left me with a Ready Player 2 feeling (we are better together in numbers).

We went away for a few days over the holiday break. The place we go to has a game room. My son asked me to accompany him to the game room. The XBOXs were taken but an old arcade style game was available. “Wanna play?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied. He hit the 2 player button and we each took turns at Pac-Man, Galaga, and Astroids. It was fun to play together. I was good at some of the games, but he was better at most, and I was fine with that.

After the trip everyone shared their favorite moments. He said, “Going on hikes, and going to the game room you, Mom.” It was a highlight for me too (though maybe for different reasons?). 😊

I look forward to any activity my son wants to engage me on. I’m ready. Consider me player 2.

How do you and your child connect over games? What are some of your favorite memories?

The Perfect Present

What does your child want for the holidays?

My boys are old enough now to articulate what they want. They are at the age where gift cards are fine, and they rarely ask for anything that would be hard to get. I’m lucky, I know.

I remember when Cabbage Patch Kids we’re all the rage and parents were desperate to get their hands on one. Of course, at my young age I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about as I figured Santa would ultimately track down any folks that were needed — ah, youth.

The point is these parents were desperate for the doll for their child because they thought it was the perfect gift (or near perfect given all the trouble and effort, not to mention, money people were putting out to get one).

I have always liked getting gifts for my boys that show I’m paying attention to their interests and desires–whether they are outwardly spoken or not. I’m always in search of the perfect gift.

But in listening to carols in the car I was reminded that the perfect gift isn’t something you give on a holiday or birthday. It’s something you can give everyday, means more to your child than any material possession they’ll ever have, and doesn’t cost a thing. The perfect gift? Your heart.

Listening to, loving, supporting, caring, teaching, encouraging, and molding are ways we share our hearts with our children. It’s the perfect gift we can offer every day.

What gift will you be giving your child this year?

I will taking a few weeks off to spend time with family and will be back in January. Happy Holidays!