Zoom Graduation

Time flies.

My youngest finished middle school this past week. In advance of the in-person ceremony there was much preparation—practicing his speech (all students at his school that are graduating do a short speech reflecting on their time there), figuring out what to wear, etc.. There was much preparation for us parents as well—ensuring family members had all the details, the after celebration for the students being cared for, etc.. COVID threw a wrinkle into the plans when it hit a good portion of the school’s small student body and forced the school to move the graduation to Zoom (we thought we were past that, but … not), 😬 and the after celebration pushed out. A bummer in the moment, but the right thing to do.

Zoom may have actually made the graduation ceremony better—family from afar could still participate and support their grandson or nephew. The kids were in more comfortable (natural) surroundings which helped lessen anxiety around their public speech, and no one felt pressured to “keep things moving along,” — it was nice.

The benefit of Zoom was also watching the students encouraging and supporting each other through the chat feature throughout the ceremony. When they weren’t encouraging and supporting each other, they were sharing inside jokes or being funny (nice for a parent to get insight first hand in what kids find funny these days). 😊

While watching the ceremony there was a strong sense of how fast time has gone by, and the milestone moment we were going through. I desperately wished time would slow down, even just a little. The ceremony concluded. My son was proud of his speech and how he delivered it, and we all reflected on his growth, and maturity, and being excited for him in what comes next.

Time flies. Oh, how in these moments, I wish it didn’t.

What milestone(s) is your child/family celebrating? What are (have) you doing to commemorate the milestone?

Report Card

How would you grade yourself as a parent?

Most of the time I’d tell you my husband and I are doing “okay” as parents — learning as we go, making mistakes, admitting to ourselves and our kids when we do, learning from them and correcting ourselves/doing better, working to impart wisdom, morals, values, and beliefs, and supporting our boys as they grow. Sometimes I feel like we’re doing well (A/B grading), but other times…

Our oldest doubled-down on not wanting to continue sports in the upcoming school year. He made some good points regarding why he wanted to step away, but his argument seemed to carry a thread of how hard it might be to continue and that was the biggest driver behind his decision. My husband and I knew that the life lessons he would gain by seeing it through were very valuable—you don’t quit when it gets hard, you find your way through. Yet how could we get him to understand and reconsider? We talked about what he would gain by staying, how it would help shape him and his confidence, and how we didn’t want him to look back and regret his decision later when there was nothing he could do about it (meaning he only has two years left in high school). He was standing firm. As much as I hoped he wouldn’t play tackle football due to potential head injury, I was now hoping beyond hope he’d change his mind. It felt like the downside of walking away outweighed the upside. I felt like I was failing my son.

Turn to my youngest. His class is going on an overnight camping trip done by a group called Journeymen. This groups helps develop skills amongst its campers around working together, and successfully completing tasks (such as building on outdoor structure to sleep under). The intention is for the campers to be pushed outside their comfort zone, but have success and grow as a result. My son’s class had participated in it when he was in the sixth grade and he was pushed almost too far (keep in mind he is on the spectrum and his brain isn’t wired to stand significant discomfort easily), that we ended up getting a call where my son pleaded with me to take him home. I told him I couldn’t and explained why it was important he stay (he needed to know that he could do it). He did stay, but was a bit traumatized by the whole experience and was good with never going back again, You can imagine his reaction when we told him his class would be returning. He broke down, got highly upset and stated repeatedly “I’m not going.” My husband and I jumped into trying to calm him. “It will be okay, you’ve grown since the last time and so have your classmates. It will be better.” He wasn’t buying it. After several minutes of being unsuccessful at talking-him-down, my husband offered a great suggestion—have our son talk to his teacher, express his concerns and share what would make him more comfortable going on the trip. Our son was still highly upset, but said he’d try.

That night my husband and I asked each other “are we doing this parent thing right?” Because we felt like we’d be given a F grade based on the recent interactions with our boys. What were we doing wrong? I didn’t sleep well that night wondering what I should be doing differently or better.

Fast forward to the next afternoon. Our youngest gets home from school all smiles. He’d talked to the teacher and the teacher was in agreement around what hadn’t been great the first time round and how it would be different this time. My son had gone from being fearful the prior day to excited about going on the trip. Our oldest got home a little later. Before my husband or I could get a “how was your day” out, our son announced he’d continue to play football and would reserve making any decisions until closer to the start of the season. He wasn’t committing long term, but giving himself more time to make a decision. My husband and I sighed in relief. Maybe my husband and I were doing better than we thought???

What made me feel immensely better was when we shared our failings with a group of friends, and they all shared times they felt like failures too on occasion regarding their kids. Each story was relatable, made us laugh, and while we are trying our best, and aren’t successful in every moment, we see growth in our kids and ourselves beyond.

How would you grade yourself as a parent on any given day? How are you getting through those times you feel like a failure or not living up to the example you are trying to set?

Crossroads

My oldest has asked to play football since he was very young. We were against tackle (due to brain injury concern, and the potential for him being exposed and potentially embracing toxic masculinity), but relented following our son being in flag football for many years, COVID isolating us all, and his need to see his dream through.

His first year, it was a shortened season—only four games, but they won most, and he had fun. The second year was a bit more eye-opening for him. He’d get overly anxious before each game — being unable to eat and/or keep anything down. He’d have no energy during the games (you don’t play optimally when you’re tired), and would be starving. All distractions. Workouts were more intense, but that didn’t bother him—he likes pushing himself to be fitter. His teammates were all over the place. Seniors making the season as if it were life and death, and his peers goofing off half the time. It’s left him questioning ‘do I really want to keep doing this?’

My oldest shared with his father he was considering walking away from the game. My husband was taken aback and needed a few minutes to let it sync in. My husband shared what he’d heard when I got home later that evening. “He said he has an important decision to make here in a few weeks about whether he’ll play football or not next year.” We we’re both caught by surprise. I wanted to talk to my son and see if I could understand more of what was driving this.

Thankfully he was willing to talk. I asked him why his was questioning playing with the team. He had clearly been putting some thought into it as he’d put a pros and cons list together mental which he recited. He shared that he loves the team and preparing for the game (though grueling). He hated how anxious he got, and it not allowing him to perform to his ability. He hated the range of attitudes by the players—overly serious (this is life and death), or immaturity, and some toxic masculinity (let’s hit something, pound chests, etc.). I could see how conflicted he was — loving the game, not loving all the comes with it. He was at a crossroads.

I started by telling him that playing, or not playing, was his decision but wanted to give him some things to consider before making the call. I started by talking about his teammates and the effect the pandemic had (which we all don’t fully understand yet) on younger people. “The seniors were overly serious because they got gypped out of two regular seasons due to the virus. They had a brief taste in the shortened season in the Spring of last year and wanted to see what they were capable of. Regarding your peers, studies have already shown maturity lacking in teen age groups due to the virus. Give tour peers through the summer and I’d guess they’ll act more age-appropriate.” I let that sink in for a minute then continued, “Regarding pre-game nerves. We can get you help with that through the doctor and bring in others like a sports psychologist to give you tools. The coach talked to you already about the leadership potential he sees in you, right?” My son nodded his head. “You have the opportunity to lean into being a leader. You followed last year because you thought that was your place, but you are growing and others see the potential in you. You have the opportunity to lead, people respect and listen to what you have to say.” This seemed to get him thinking based on his facial expression. “The last thing I’d like you to think about is not having regrets. You need to think through would you regret not playing sometime down the road, and if the answer is yes, than reconsider.” I shared a story with him about my own high school sports experience. I’d played on the golf team. The game was mentally taxing. I was good, but not great. I took it seriously, but not life or death. I recall questioning myself each year, but particularly before my senior year if I really wanted to subject myself to all the mental stress again. I ultimately decided I would regret it if I didn’t see it through, and I’m so glad I did. I have great memories, continued to improve my game, and got to be a mentor/roll model to the younger players. It was very satisfying.

My son is at a crossroads. My husband and I can only guide him at this point. I don’t want him making a decision he’ll wish he hadn’t later. As a parent, I feel the need to step back and let him make up his mind, and show that we trust him to make decisions that are right for him. He’s becoming an adult after all and needs to learn how to make ‘big’ decisions he can live with. It’s a bit unsettling as a parent to start letting go, but that’s the only way he’ll grow.

What crossroads has your child faced? How are you helping them make decisions for themselves that they feel good about?

A Sign of Support

The situation in Ukraine is terrible. The bravery the citizens are showing is inspiring. Trying to imagine what it must feel like to be in the situation is impossible. It must be terrifying, stressful, exhausting, and so much more.

My boys are much more aware of politics and what is going on in the world than I was at their age. We discussed what was happening in Ukraine at dinner, and wondered what we could do to help. It can feel hopeless when you are far away and removed from the situation. We talked about how we could show support, and how we could donate to relief organizations. We talked about why one leader would inflict so much pain on so many, with no regard for the damage he’s doing to innocent people (in Ukraine and Russia), their lives, livelihood, and countries. We talked about the beauty of so many around the world being united against the invasion. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was a needed one. War is ugly, and no one wins in war.

Following our conversation, our youngest being into geography, insisted we get a Ukrainian flag using his own money. We agreed and now have it hanging in our window as a sign of support. He knows he doesn’t have the means to contribute any significant amount, but knew a visible sign of support had to mean something.

How do you talk to your child about bad things that happen in the world? What signs of support have you and your family taken for others are in need?

Thinking Ahead

Clearly, moving from middle school to high school in the Fall is top-of-mind for my youngest.

My youngest was out in our living room pacing ever so slightly back and forth. “What’s up,” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied, and then he stopped walking and made a hmmm noise. “Well, actually…” he said, “I’m thinking about high school and what those changes will mean for me.” His facial expression was a mix of anticipation and fear. His older brother just went through enrollment for his classes, so it would make sense this was on his mind.

“Are you concerned about something?” I asked. “Well, maybe. I’m concerned it’s going to be a lot more. Classes. The teachers are going to be strict. There’s going to be more homework.” I could see he was stressed about the upcoming change (though it’s still months away). I thought for a minute before responding. “You’re right that change is coming, and I’ve yet to meet anyone that likes change, especially when it’s unclear what exactly the change will be. The good news is, while change isn’t easy, it’s something we all have to go through throughout life, and each time you show yourself you’re able to adapt and successfully make the change, the more confidence you have the next time round. You’ve already gone through some big changes—moving homes, moving from elementary to middle school, learning to navigate public transit and more. Yes, it will be different, but you should grow in your capabilities and feel good about it.”

He exhaled, lowered his shoulders, and smiled. “You’re right, I can do this. Thanks.” That ended the conversation.

We can, too often, look ahead and get anxious, worried, or concerned about the unknown. Change is hard, regardless the age — whether it’s planned or thrust upon you. It’s how you use the tools, including experience, you have to know you can get through whatever life throws at you next.

How do you handle change? How are you helping your child navigate it?

Going for the Win

Do you get nervous before performing — running a race, speaking or singing in public, etc.?

My oldest started a new sport that runs through winter. He went in with the mindset he wanted to take advantage of the conditioning and practice as a good way to stay in shape. He has decided that he will give competition a try. He is nervous, and knows he has much to learn to get good at this sport.

I picked him up following practice one day and he shared he was going to compete. The tone of his voice indicated he believed he’d lose, and the loss would be painful. I attempted to get him to see it from another point of view. “What level would you say you’re on for this sport?” I asked. “Zero,” he replied. I laughed, “I’d say you’re at least at a 1.” I paused before continuing, “You are still very new at wrestling. You may get pinned very quickly, but winning for you, at this point, is learning something new from the match that you can apply going forward. That’s your win. And if you agree with that, there’s no way you can lose.” He sat and thought about what I said, and nodded as if he understood.

Trying new things is hard, and scary. But the growth and insight we gain around our abilities and what’s possible is the reward. Losing never feels good, but what if you grow and become better. Isn’t that a win? I think so, and hope my son does too.

How are you helping your child find the wins in new situations?

Away Camp

Does your child go to away camp?

When I was a kid I went to away camp. I absolutely hated it. I was super home sick (made worse by a friend I went with who was more home sick than I) and never adjusted or got comfortable with my new environment. I’m sure there was upside to me — learning to survive in new situations, etc., but at the time it was painful. I was so excited when I got to go home.

Fast forward to the present, based on my experience, we never pushed away camp on our kids, though we knew there would be benefit if they decided to go. Our youngest surprised us a few years back (pre-COVID) when he agreed to go. I was a little concerned (was he ready for it?), but we decided to let him go. Low and behold, the outfit ended up canceling the camp a few weeks in advance. All their other camps were full, but this particular one hadn’t gotten enough campers. My son was a little disappointed, I was a bit relieved. 😊

This year, our youngest had an opportunity to visit a friend who had traveled to another state where they have a family cabin. My son knows his friend well and he was very excited at the prospect of going away, so we agreed to let him.

At the airport, he was a mix of nerves and excitement. I encouraged him to treat the coming trip as an adventure. “This is part of growing up. This experience will help give you confidence when you are older and go out on your own.” A discussion I might have benefited from had my parents had it with me before I went to camp (or did they and I forgot? 😊). He agreed. He gave me a big hug and got on the plane. He was aided by the airline to get to his final destination but did great. FaceTime kept us connected while he was away. Makes me so proud to see him able to do this, and know being away is helping build his confidence and his independence.

Away camp is just one way kids have new adventures and are forced to grow (regardless if they love it, hate it, or are somewhere in between). How are you helping your child build their confidence and/or independence?

Summer Camp Inspiration

What is keeping your child busy this summer?

Summer camps can be a godsend for parents when school is out — with the exception of the carpooling, odd hours, and cost, right?

My oldest decided he wanted to go to a specialty sports camp. It was a single day and very intensive. He was excited to go as the camp was touted as preparing the participants to become college athletes some day. I expected to hear all about how awesome the camp was when my son got home, but he was more in a daze (he got sunburned and had been outside for ten hours, but still).

“How’d it go?,” I asked. “Okay,” my son said. He was quiet. I had expected him to add more without prompting, but to no avail, so I continued, “was it all you were hoping for?” “Not exactly,” he said. He drew out the word not. “How so?” I asked. “We’ll, they had us run drills and this one coach kept yelling at me. I thought they were going to teach me, but I don’t feel like I learned anything new.” I asked him a few more questions then gave it a rest. He was clearly disappointed with the experience and exhausted.

About a week after this my son asked me to go for a walk. That rarely happens, so I jumped at the chance to get outside and have one-on-one time with him. As we walked he talked about his plans for the summer and things he wanted to do. As we walked the conversation went back to the camp he had attended. “I just can’t get it out of my mind what that coach said,” he started, “what he was asking me to do made sense but it was my first time doing it, so unsure why he kept singling me out and yelling at me.” We talked for a while about how the coach gave his critiques. Based on how my son described it the coach ‘motivated’ by shaming. I had to stop my son and make sure he understood something very clearly. “There are different ‘leaders’ that will come in and out of your life and will come in the form of teacher, your boss, and even coach. Leadership styles vary, but the best leaders know how to get the best out of you without having to break you down. When a leader feels this is the only way they can motivate you, it says more about them, than it says about you.” I corrected myself, “It says everything about them and nothing about you.” I explained further, “When you use shame or intimidation to motivate, it will work but there can be collateral damage, I.e., devastating consequences. You don’t want someone to be the best athlete or musician or dancer or worker or (fill in the blank), but be stressed all the time, hate themselves, and/or suffer mentally. You want to be led by someone who inspires you, understands how to get you to push beyond your comfort zone, and get the best out of you. When that happens you thrive vs. survive.” I took a breathe with the hopes that what I was saying was sinking in. “If the coach taught you a new approach and you think it’s a good one, then work on getting comfortable with it, and better at it, but do not waste one second allowing how he delivered his assessment to you sink it. Just let it fall on the ground where it belongs. He doesn’t know you or your capabilities. My guess is he would single out anyone he thought might make him look bad. Pitiful.” I rested my case.

My son was still taking in what I said. He shared other comments the coach had made that were directed at the larger group that confirmed my suspicion that this coach wasn’t someone I wanted my son around, and was grateful it had only been for the one day.

We’ve all had experiences in our lives where a leader didn’t necessarily show good character. It’s disappointing when you experience it, and angering when you see (of hear after the fact) your child did. I’m just glad my son shared. I hope he’ll take this lessen on leadership and look for leadership that will help him grow in a positive and healthy way — leaders who inspire him, push him to be his best, while appreciating him for who he is as he is.

What is your child doing this summer? Who are the leaders inspiring your child?

I will be off next week enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, and will return in July.

Anxiety, Stress, and Gratefulness

What sums up 2020 for you and your family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anticipation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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