Growing Pains

What was your middle school experience like?

My youngest is nearing the end of his middle school experience. When we asked how his school day was he made a face (something between resistance and relief), blew out an audible breath and said, “a lot of kids are getting physical in the hallways and parents are getting concerned.” Wait, I thought, I’m a parent and I’m not concerned — because I wasn’t aware anything was going on. I needed to learn more. “What exactly happened?” I asked. My son told us how there are a small group of kids that like to push each other, and use inappropriate language when moving between classrooms when no teachers or staff are present. It had gotten to a point where they had to sit each class down and talk to the students about what was going on because some kids were getting hurt. My son was upset, not because he had gotten caught up in this, but because what his classmates were doing were disappointing to him.

“It bothers me that some of these people are in my class,” he shared. His school is small, and most of the folks in his class he’s been with for years. “I don’t understand why they think this is funny or okay.” We talked about what was going on. My oldest thought the whole thing was humorous and shared stories of his middle school experience that was mirroring his brother’s. The difference was it didn’t seem to bother my oldest, but did my youngest.

My youngest made a comment indicating he still didn’t understand why his friends would engage in this behavior and find it okay. I offered a possible reason for the way the boys were behaving. “Think about when you were starting middle school. You were still more dependent on folks like mom and dad, and your teachers, and willing to listen and adhere. But, middle school is the transit period between being dependent and starting to be independent. Kids start to test boundaries and who they want to be.” My husband chimed in, “it’s like trying new clothes on. They try to see what fits.” We all agreed it’s a normal part of growing, and hoped our son wouldn’t judge his classmates too harshly, though we’re hopeful they’ll rethink their behavior and treat others more kindly going forward.

Growing up is hard. Seeing how others change can be painful, but it’s part of the process we all go through. I continue to appreciate that our son is letting us navigate this with him together.

What growing pains has your child encountered? How are you helping them navigate these changes?

Wash-Rinse-Repeat

When was the last time you felt blah?

During the first year of COVID, feeling blah was front and center for me. But as we adjusted and things have opened, closed, re-opened-ish, the ‘blahs’ have lessened.

My oldest struggles sometimes when things are mundane. He doesn’t do well with lots of free time. He likes keeping busy and gets restless when he isn’t. He came home from school one afternoon and his mood got progressively worse throughout the evening. I asked if something was wrong, wondering if he’d had something bad happen in school with a test, assignment, or friend. “No,” he said and looked downtrodden. I gave him some space thinking it might just be a teenage thing. I know I liked my space when I was his age.

Later that evening I caught him as he was heading back to his room. “Wanna talk?” I asked, thinking he’d say no, but instead he just started talking. What was interesting is that he started talking to me from his bedroom and didn’t come back to where I was. I questioned does he want to talk? But after continuing to speak, I went to his room. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Everyday is the same. It’s wash-rinse-repeat. If this is all there is, it sucks.” I asked him some more questions to better understand what was causing him to be in this funk and boredom seemed to be the answer. What I found curious is that he had many other things he could do to keep himself occupied (work on projects, get ahead on homework, connect with friends), but he was choosing to be bored and bummed about it.

Of course, as a parent you want to help your child so I made suggestions, tried to get him to rethink boredom and the gift that it can be, and ensure he was okay. It was clear I didn’t have the answer.

I know there is much to be gained by your child learning to deal with occasional boredom. I am like my son in that I don’t like being bored either, but not because of not having anything to do (that part I like). It’s this feeling of, if I’m not doing something than I’m wasting my time/not being productive, and if I’m not being productive, I’m not contributing anything of value, and if I’m not contributing something of value, than I’m wasting precious time. I have to catch myself when I think or feel this, because it’s counterproductive. If you are productive all the time, you’ll burnout or worse.

I drove my son to school the next morning. “Anything of interest happening today at school?,” I asked. “I’ve got a test, but otherwise it’s nothing new. Wash-rinse-repeat.” I asked him if he felt like he was being challenged at school thinking this might be contributing to him being bored. “No, if anything I’m too challenged.” Okay, so school is keeping him engaged that’s good, I thought. Still trying to offer something to help I pivoted to what has served me well for most of my life…noticing your environment and the beauty around you. I offered him a suggestion. “I know you feel like each day is the same, but try to find something new around you. Art on the wall, a bird outside. Just pay attention to what’s around you and see what happens.” He thanked me — whether he was appreciative or subtly letting me know he was “good” and didn’t need any more Mom intervention is unclear. 😊 Regardless, I do hope he can see life for the gift it is, and realize being busy has its place, but stopping and periodically resting (doing nothing) is valuable too.

How do you help your child when they are in a funk? How does your child deal with boredom?

Change is Coming

Do you like change?

Change is often hard, right? Uncomfortable. Yet with vaccinations on the raise (hallelujah!) change is indeed coming. In the coming months we’ll be able to move about more freely, maybe even enjoy some of the things we’ve missed (other people, the movies!, eating out, etc.), yet there is one change no one in my house is super eager for. Going back to the work or school in the way we did pre-Covid.

I miss going places but am not super excited by the idea of resuming frequent business travel. My boys miss their classmates, but aren’t eager for seven hours + in school everyday.

Waking up early (earlier) to catch a flight, an added stress to ensure everyone and everything is cared for while I’m away (I know my husband and boys can handle anything that comes their way, but I’m still going to stress about it), being away. Ugh! Time is so precious. The pandemic taught us that if nothing else.

My oldest reflected on return to in-person school. “You mean I’ll have to go back five days a week and be there all day?” It made me smile. How quickly we adjust to new routines (he is online four hours a day for four days a week), right?

It will be interesting to see how things progress to whatever normal will be going forward.

I feel super fortunate for the extra time I’ve had with my family. I’m thrilled my boys will still experience school in the traditional sense (sports, clubs, dances, graduation). Assuming we exit this pandemic and don’t enter another anytime soon (can you imagine?).

Change is coming. It may be hard and uncomfortable but I know we’ll adjust. Just like we’ve always done.

What change is coming for you or your child? Are you looking forward to the change?

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?

Vacation Dreams

How did your vacation plans change this year?

We, like most, scrapped our vacation plans (that were supposed to start in April) once COVID hit. We were hoping we’d be able to travel in the summer, but as the pandemic has lingered our plans have changed. Staying closer to home, trying to come up with things to do.

Planning and the anticipation of an upcoming trip is half the fun of going on vacation in our house. Now even local trips outside the city are tempered with hope that COVID infection rates won’t rise causing state to shutdown again. Instead of anticipation it can be nerve racking.

We all need time away, a break, an opportunity to rest and just be. We’ve had a lot of time to be together, but crave a different landscape. We desperately want to be able to move about like we could before.

In our family, we’ll occasionally ask each other, “What are you most looking forward to?” The response is usually trip related, or about a pending activity or celebration. Almost all take place away from our home. If you ask that question now you’ll hear, “Being able to see my friends”, “Playing sports”, or “Getting out of here.”

We’re dreaming of vacation and being able to move freely (and safely) again.

What are you and your child dreaming of doing post-COVID?

A Quiet Place

Things seem quieter now, right?

Having the out-of-the-house distractions go away at first was difficult. We are used to having noise around us. If you are like me, prior to the pandemic having the house be quiet — no sounds coming from from kids, my screens making noise, or the sounds of running, playing or arguing — felt good for a little bit, but inevitably the silence would turn to discomfort. I’d get a feeling I was wasting time and should be doing something. If I was doing something I would be making and/or hearing noise. Cue the tv or radio coming on (at a minimum). Hearing noise would calm me.

But now there is a lot less noise all the time — less traffic on the street, no groups of people gathering, no sounds of sports being played, or the kids running around outside with their friends — part of it makes me long for the past, but I’m hopeful for the future and know the noises will return eventually.

I’m trying to really embrace the quiet. When I talk to parenting groups it’s one of the tools I recommend — making quiet time for inward reflection. To inquire within yourself how are you doing and what do you need. It’s a great opportunity to just listen and see how your mind responds. When I do this I’m often surprised by what I hear — you need a hug, you need a break, you need to hear it’s going to be okay. I feel better once I can identify my need(s) and acknowledge getting them addressed (my husband and youngest son are always willing to give good hugs; my kids can help in the house and yard or cook a meal; my husband is always there to tell me it’s going to be okay). If something comes up they can’t address, I seek out others for what I need — talking to my girlfriends to keep those connections going, checking in on my parents to make sure they are okay, etc.

While it being more quiet may make you uncomfortable I’d encourage you to lean into it and see what ahas you have around how you are doing and what you need.

How are you caring for yourself, so you can better care for your family, during this time?

I’ll be taking next Sunday off to celebrate the holiday.

One New Day at a Time

How are you getting through each day with your family at home?

My husband and I went for a long walk in our neighborhood early in the morning over the weekend. Few people were up so it was easy to social distance from the handful of other neighbors we encountered. As we walked we talked about how different things were since the Coronavirus changed how we live. As we talked I reflected how I’d been experiencing a similar feeling I hadn’t felt in a while. It was a fear of the unknown tempered with a need to push through the fear — it was a feeling I experienced when I first became a parent.

I remember after my first son was born how I felt almost disconnected from my body — seeing my baby, adjusting to the baby’s needs, learning this ‘new’ normal, and trying to shake the discomfort I felt — adjusting to being a new parent. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be a good parent when I didn’t have any experience? I was learning as I went, and it felt scary. But I had to adjust, getting paralyzed with fear wouldn’t serve my son, or me well. I had to walk through the fear knowing eventually I’d get comfortable with how my life was changing.

We are adjusting. Each day seems a little easier than the last. Much like it did in those early days of parenting. I move forward with the knowledge that I did it before and I can do it again — one new day at a time.

How are you adjusting to how the virus is impacting your family’s life?

Head and Heart

How does your child show others who they are?

My family and I were fortune to see Peggy Orenstein talk about her book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. My husband and I decided to have our sons attend with us. While the idea of having to hear about sex, intimacy, and porn with my kids made me uncomfortable, my husband and I knew if these topics were ‘out in the open’ we could talk more openly with our kids about what they are seeing, hearing, and thinking.

My kids shared my discomfort. “Mom, do we have to go?,” they asked. There was no getting out of it. If I as going to power through my discomfort so we’re they. We were going to this talk as a family. I did suggest a compromise, “I know you’re uncomfortable being with mom and dad at this event. If you want to sit away from us, that’s okay.” That seemed to make us all feel a little better.

One of the most powerful revelations I had during Peggy’s talk was when she shared what her work uncovered — that girls are taught to disconnect from their bodies (who you are is one thing, your body or outward appearance another), and boys are taught to disconnect from their heart (have feelings, empathy, etc., but not be able to show them). I thought about how I’ve seen my oldest son struggle with this. It’s like the empathetic kid I’ve known has been working hard to stuff his feelings and empathy way down–with it rarely surfacing as he ages. My husband and I have talked to him about toxic masculinity and encouraged him not to buy into it (or fall into its trap), but Peggy shared insights that helped outline just how hard that is. Our kids are up against what the see on TV, the internet, etc., and risk isolating themselves when they break from the “norm” — stand up for others, or freely express how they feel.

The talk has helped us start a more useful dialogue as a family around what our boys are up against. My husband and my’s goal is to teach them to keep their head and heart connected. It won’t be easy, but us being willing to be uncomfortable together has been for us a great place to start.

How are you helping your child be true to who they are?

The Start of Something New

Is your child starting at a new school this year?

My youngest is entering middle school. His first new school in six years. He’s feeling a range of emotions – anticipation and excitement over the new school, what he’ll learn, how it will be different from elementary school, meeting the new students, and making new friends. He is also mourning elementary school. Classmates he grew close to, particularly towards the end of the year. Already missing those that will be moving away, or going to other middle schools. Concerned about if he will make new friends, concerned if he is ready for the harder material, ready for the independence he is gaining.

As a parent, I too am experiencing a range of emotions. I’m excited for him, but also concerned–will he be accepted as he is, will this experience be good for him, will he grow as my husband and I hope from it? I think every parent has these concerns at one time or another. But I have to let him go in order for him to grow, find himself, struggle, make mistakes and be there to help him work through the tough times, and celebrate the successes.

We’ll have the first day of school behind us before we know it. We’ll navigate the start of this something new like we have before (daycare and kindergarten)–by being open to what’s to come with optimism, preparing for unforeseen bumps, experiencing them as they come, and moving onward.

How do you help your child when they start something new? How do you help them adjust?

I’ll be off for Labor Day weekend and back in mid-September.