Advent Calendar

What are you most looking forward to today? Or tomorrow?

Often we move through life without noticing anything in particular we’re looking forward to. While most look forward to the holidays, perhaps gifts, and seeing friends and family, coming across an advent calendar reminded me of the smaller, but needed joys, we have access to daily.

When my boys were young I stumbled across Lego advent calendars. I recalled the joy I had as a child opening a simple paper door awaiting to see the picture inside. Now Lego was making them? I couldn’t resist getting them for my boys. Each advent calendar had a different theme (one city, one movie). Behind each door revealed a small surprise — a simple-to-put-together object such as a tree or mini figure. Every morning my boys would rush to the table eager to find what would be revealed that day.

It reminded me of unseen joy that might lay ahead. How life doesn’t give us physical advent calendars for the entire year, but they are there if we allow ourselves to see them, and figuratively (and sometimes literally) open the door. Meeting a new friend, noticing beauty in nature, sharing time with a pet, are a few examples of things that can happen for any of us any day. It’s just seeing the “door” and allowing yourself the opportunity to find the joy.

My boys are too old for advent calendars now, or so they tell me, but they’re not too old to find something to look forward to every day — whether it’s in the form of gratitude, anticipation, or the unknown. Each day there is an opportunity for us to “open” the door with anticipation and looking forward to. The “prize” might not reveal itself right away, but I’m betting with some reflection the “gift” of the day will ultimately reveal itself.

How do you approach each new day? How are you helping your child see the ‘gifts’ around them?

Gratitude and Giving Thanks

As we emerge (fingers crossed) from the pandemic, what are you most grateful for?

My youngest son’s school wanted to start a new annual tradition this school year to celebrate being able to come together as a community. They decided to hold a Gratitude Festival—to not only celebrate community, but honor the things we are grateful for — teachers, parents, administrators, friends, health, education, the community, and much more.

Being grateful has given me so much – it helps me be present and notice all the wonderful things around me (people, nature, animals, etc.). Everyday I’m reminded of all the things I have to be thankful for. I’ve tried to instill gratitude in my children. At meals we often share what we are grateful for. I’m hopeful they see the joy in being grateful too.

With Thanksgiving coming up, we often reflect on what we are thankful for. I hope events such as the Gratitude Festival at my son’s school, is one of many events that are held across the country, throughout the year, that provides each of us the opportunity to acknowledge the gifts all around us. After all, realizing the gifts in your life is a catalyst for experiencing gratitude, and when you’re grateful you feel blessed or fortunate. That usually means you feel good. And if you feel good, you’re more likely to spread your good feelings to others. Spreading happiness. What a wonderful thing.

What traditions do you have that are teaching your child gratitude? How are you and/or your child spreading happiness?

I will be away the next few weeks while spending times with friends and family, and will be back in December. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

The Great Pumpkin Carving

What’s a favorite Fall tradition for your family?

We have several including going to our favorite pumpkin patch, but the tradition I look most forward to is pumpkin carving. The pumpkin carving is fun, but I enjoy the company, seeing everyone, talking, catching up, sharing a meal, and feeling connected.

Last year, we skipped the tradition as a precaution due to COVID. We all missed it. My niece is a senior in high school and will be heading off to college next year. This being her last pumpkin carving (at least for a while) is really hitting home. My sons and I talked about it when we went to the pumpkin patch with their cousins. We are all in a bit of denial this tradition will come to an end-of-sorts after this year. Yes, it will still go on, but it will be different without her with us. I’m reminded again of how quickly time is going and trying to be truly present so I can fully take in the joy of the experience and all of us being back together again.

What traditions are you most looking forward to resuming? What will it mean to you and your family to be back with others again?

Movers Wanted

What jobs have you had family or friends help with?

Moving, particularly when I was younger, involved soliciting the help of family and friends. I never liked asking, but always appreciated the help.

My sons aunt and uncle were in need of help moving from a rental back to their home. They were in a pinch and asked for my sons help a few days before they needed it. Both boys said “of course,” as they love their aunt, uncle, and cousins and wanted to be off assistance. When they found out they would also get some money for doing it they were beyond thrilled.

After they helped them move, my husband and I asked them how it went. “It was nice,” my youngest shared, “it was nice just spending time with them alone. We had fun.” We realized our kids hadn’t spent much alone time with their aunt and uncle, we (my husband or I) always seemed to be around at the same time. I was happy that had this experience and shared memory with other family members. My oldest piped in, “Yea, they said that might want our help again in another week.” He was excited by the prospect.

Helping others can be so fulfilling. Helping others and getting paid, especially if you’re young and want/need to make money — near utopia (at least for my kids). 😊

How do you model family and friends helping in times of need? How does your child view helping others?

Father Figure

Who are the men in your life that have had the greatest impact?

My father had the greatest, but there have been many other formative males in my life — uncles, teachers, coaches, and others.

My youngest goes to school where several students have a single parent, grandparents or guardians that look after them. My sons’s school stresses the importance of showing up for each other, and redefining what being a man is (throw out classic male stereotypes and be who you are vs. who you think you’re supposed to be), and what family and community is. People who show up, care, and guide you in a positive direction are the type of figures you want in your life. We all need figures like this.

On this Father’s Day who is (or are) the father figure(s) in your life that have most positively impacted you? What about your child’s? How are you celebrating these special people in your life?

To all the dad’s out there (or those that played a father figure role): Thank you! And enjoy your day.

Vaccination

Shots are never fun regardless of your age, but when has a shot ever been something you looked forward to?

My boys were happy when my husband and I became eligible for the COVID vaccine in our state. They were elated when they were able to sign up to get their shots more recently.

One the day of his first vaccination shot, my youngest (who hates shots) was so excited he practically ran to the chair when it was his turn. No hesitancy to give the nurse his arm, relax, etc. Once he had his shot, he was elated. His reaction was much like my husband’s and mine — excited, relieved, hopeful. My oldest was the same with his shot, but played it much cooler – that’s what 15 year olds do, right?

The boys have figured out when they will be fully vaccinated, have made notes on their respective days on the family calendar, and can’t wait to fully re-engage with friends, in activities, and more once the date arrives and beyond.

There is a collective sigh of relief from us all. How fortunate are we that we lived through this. How fortunate that we’ll get to (more fully) live again. So grateful for science and medical folks that figured this out. My boys saw the shot as a gift, and I do too.

How is your child with shots? How are you re-engaging in activities as things start to re-open?

I will be off next week to enjoy the long weekend with family and will be back in June.

Motherhood

How are you celebrating Mother’s Day today?

I’m reflecting this year on my time as a mother.

M – Milestones. Getting pregnant. Birth. Watching my children grow. Wow, wow, wow!

O – Observer. Trying to understand my child, what they need, and figuring out how to give it to them (physically, emotionally). A lot of trial and error.

T – Time. Such a strange thing. It slowed down so much when the kids were young. I couldn’t wait for time to go faster. Fast forward and I’d love for time to slow down now. My boys are becoming more independent by the day and will be grown and on their own before I know it.

H – Help. I was bad at asking for it when I first became a parent, thinking I was supposed to know how to magically do everything without any formal experience or training. A huge thank you to family, friends, and other new parents who supported my husband and I, helping us become better parents.

E – Everything. There is so much that goes into parenting. It’s hard, but what a joy. My boys have helped me grow so much as a person. Everything that goes into it — good and bad —has been absolutely worth it.

R – Rewarding. Seeing the world through my boys eyes as young children and now as teens always makes me feel like I’m seeing (appreciating) the world anew.

I hope all the moms out there have a wonderful Mother’s Day. What does being a mother mean to you?

Disconnected

Does your child have an electronic device that they enjoy using for fun?

Everyone in my family has an electronic device. We held off on our boys getting smart phones until they were 13 (and rules apply, break a rule they lose the device). We decided for Spring Break we’d head out to a more remote part of our state to disconnect and unwind. A change of scenery would do us all some good. My husband tried warning our kids in these places access to the internet (WiFi or cellular) would be sparse and to be prepared (meaning bring a book, puzzle or game we can play, or download content to your device so you can access it while we’re there).

By day 3 of our trip we came to our first location where internet access was no where to be found. Our oldest had downloaded some music and podcasts, so he was fine. My youngest downloaded nothing and brought nothing to keep himself entertained. You would have thought something major had happened by the way he broke down. “This is the worst trip ever. It’s going to be so boring.” It went on and on. Being on the spectrum he had to explain to me how he was feeling. There were many thoughts that went through my mind as he complained about being bored (such as — how ungrateful, and doesn’t he understand others would kill to be able to go on trips like this?). I heard him out, patted him on the leg and said, “I get that this is hard for you, but this will happen sometimes in life. You might get bored and you have to make the best of it. I’m going to go sit over in those chairs overlooking the beach. Come join me when you’re feeling better.” I walked away.

He joined 30 minutes later. “It took me a while to feel better,” he said, “do you think we could go down to the beach?” “Sure,” I said, and off we headed. The beach was great. My son had a great time and admitted later in the day that the trip wasn’t so bad after all. The next day we were at another location with no connectivity. He had another meltdown and again we found another activity and we made it through another day. When we got home, both boys were grateful to be home and have full access to the internet again.

At dinner that first night back, we talked about the trip and what we enjoyed. We talked about sites we saw, hikes we took, and seeing wildlife. “Okay,” my youngest said when it was his turn, “I had a good time. I know I didn’t handle it well, and I’m sorry. I’ll be prepared next time.” We are heading out later this summer on another trip that will take us to remote areas (again limited to no cellular or WiFi coverage). My hope is that my son will be ready next time with activities to keep himself occupied and allowing himself the time to truly disconnect and enjoy the beauty (nature) around him.

How do you and your family disconnect? How does your child handle situations where they have to be disconnected from their device(s)?

Practice Makes Perfect

Do you have a perfectionist in your family?

My oldest has high expectations of himself. He always has since he was small. In his mind, he should know how to do something expertly even if he has little to no experience with it. Make a goal on every play, ace a new math assignment, get to high levels the first time playing a new video game. He’s disappointment and frustration that things ‘don’t come easily’ is hard for him.

I’ve often wondered where this came from. My husband and I have never pushed either of our boys to be perfect. We have asked them to put in effort, try their best, and not to give up when improvement is needed. Yet, my son’s expectations of himself remain the same.

My husband recently alerted me to what might be a contributing factor. “Have you ever noticed on TV or in the movies how easy new things always seem to be?” he asked, “Take Luke Skywalker, for example. They find him on a remote planet and before you know it, he’s flying a X-wing fighter with enough precision that he hits his target and blows up the Death Star on practically his first try. You never see Luke struggle to learn to fly. He’s just good at it. You never see him put in the work.” Of course, I could point out that we see Luke struggle to become a Jedi, but that is besides the point. My husband was onto something, rarely does effort get the lead in the storyline unless the payoff is big in the end (win the game, gold medal, blow up the Death Star). Struggle and the gift it gives in helping you better understand yourself and what you’re capable of isn’t always easy to see or appreciate.

I find myself having more compassion for my son (vs. concern) over his desire to always achieve peak performance. I plan to use the example my husband shared with me with my son. Maybe it will resonate with him, maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t, I’ll have to practice what examples I’ll use on him next. After all, practice makes perfect, right?

How are you helping your child when they have high expectations of themselves? How are you helping them understand (appreciate?) the gift of practice?

I’ll be off for a bit to enjoy Spring Break and will be back in a few weeks.

The Nutcracker and a New Year

What has reminded you most of the holidays being different this year?

Not being able to be with family and friends really struck home during Thanksgiving. Turning on the TV this past week and seeing The Nutcracker performed, really drove it home for me for Christmas. I was ready for no parties, or gatherings. I was ready not to go to any shows, movies or ballets. But seeing The Nutcracker on a local station being performed by our local ballet company solidified how different things are.

My youngest son joined me to see The Nutcracker at our local theater a few years back. Being there in person, hearing the music and feeling the vibrations from the orchestra as they play, watching talented dancers of all ages perform, and the excitement and gratitude the crowd felt just to be there appeared universal by all in attendance. It was special. Yet, sitting here in my home, seeing the ballet felt equally special. I didn’t have to go out into public, risk exposure to the virus to see a performance that can bring such joy.

I attempted to get my boys to join me to watch the performance. My youngest was playing Minecraft with friends online. My other on the phone with a friend. Ah, teens. It didn’t really matter. I lowered the lights to mimic the theatre and sat back. I could imagine being there in person with my family beside me. It was a mixture of nostalgia for what was, and hope for what can be — seeing the ballet live again one day soon.

This year has been one that required awareness, guidance, patience, reflection, support, community, and love to make it through. While a hard year, it was a year of growth for our family, and I’m guessing for many of yours. I look forward to how 2021 will be different. How we grow together. I’d say ‘go back to normal’ but my sense is even that will have changed. I look forward most to reconnecting, and being able to hug others again. I do so look forward to the New Year.

What is bringing you and your family joy this holiday season? What are you most looking forward to in the New Year?

I will be off the next few weeks to enjoy time with family and will be back in January.