Strength vs. Weakness

How do you show your emotions to others?

I have to admit I struggled showing mine when I was younger. I didn’t allow myself to feel or experience my feelings as I thought they’d show weakness or an inability for me to solve problems on my own.

My oldest struggles experiencing his for similar reasons. He came home after sports practice, was mumbling under his breath, saying little to us, and closing his door in a way you knew he didn’t want it opened. He came out briefly to get dinner. When asked how he was, he looked at me incredulously and said, “practice sucked. I’m just so over it!” He’d had practices before he hated, but this felt like something more. You could tell from his body language he felt tense. I attempted to engage. He said something to the effect of “leave me alone, I’m about to blow a gasket.” My husband attempted to engage. Our son resisted. We decided we needed to let him cool down, and then revisit.

The next morning, before we needed to leave for school, I went to talk to him again. “What was going on last night?” I asked. He grumbled and shared he’d had a hard practice. I asked what made it tougher than usual. Turns out it was the wet and cold, I knew he was holding back. “What else?” I pressed. He sighed and said, “okay, when I was driving home and turning onto our street I thought I was clear, but noticed a car, at the last minute, who’s headlight was out.” I could tell they must have almost hit each other and it scared and angered him. I shared as much. “Anytime the unexpected happens, especially in the car, a normal reaction is fear — am I’m okay are they okay? — and then anger — how dare you scare me!” He looked like he was taking this in though we’ve talked about this before. I continued, “what I’m more concerned about is you being unwilling to talk about your feelings when you got home last night. What you were feeling seemed disproportionate to what you were sharing. “Mom, I don’t need a spotlight on me every time I’m upset.” “It’s not a spotlight,” I said, “it’s helping you work through your emotions. If you don’t talk to someone about your feelings and you hold them in, eventually they will come out in an explosive way that others won’t understand. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors when you don’t work to understand your feelings and find a healthy release for them. Talking to others is one of the easiest ways. I’m here. You’re dad is here. Talk to your friends if needed, just talk to someone.”

He appeared to be considering our conversation. He’s becoming more independent and wants to handle things more on his own. I can appreciate that, but desperately want him to avoid the all-too-common pitfall that keeping your emotions to yourself and not experiencing and working through them is a sign of strength instead of what it truly is, a sign of weakness. I learned this when I talked to a therapist for the first time later in life. Learning how powerful and cathartic it could be to talk and work through emotions lifted my confidence in navigating life and armed me to better deal with challenges as they come my way. My hope is that my son sees how sharing and working through his feelings can benefit him too.

How do you work through and express your feelings? How are you helping your kid work through and express theirs?

Combating Sticks and Stones

Words can hurt, right? Even when unintentional.

My youngest has grown tall for his age (over 6’), understands the importance of healthy eating and movement to live a long and healthy life, but eats more than the energy he’s expending, and is quickly growing out of his clothes.

He and I were out for a walk when he shared a comment one of his fellow students made, calling him fat. Of course, I wanted to know details so I asked him, “What exactly did they say?” He shared it was someone he didn’t know, it happened in the hallway, and the person was smiling, made eye contact with my son, and said, “hey man, your clothes don’t fit,” and kept walking. He wasn’t laughing, his tone wasn’t harsh, but his words landed like a punch to my son’s gut. “How are you feeling?” I asked. “Sad,” he said. I understood. Of course the momma bear in me went into high gear, and I said, “if someone says that again, you can say, ‘well your personality doesn’t fit.’ It might confuse them in the moment, but should get them to think more carefully about their words to others.” I was angry.

We walked for a while more. My own feelings of insecurity and body image/shame that were more intense in my younger years came flooding back. I HATED that my child was having to experience people being so careless with their words, and trying to diminish my son and his self-worth. We talked about why the person may have said what they did — their own discomfort, or not feeling good about themselves and wanting to direct their negative energy elsewhere and my son being the unfortunate recipient. My son felt sorry for the other student and their ignorance. That student has no idea who my son is, or what he has to offer others (much like my son doesn’t know the other student).

We were fortunate that my son had been reached out to on the same day by his former school asking him to come back and volunteer, and commenting on how much he was missed. It helped ease my son’s pain. I was grateful.

Having a child that struggles with anything — looks, smarts, physical abilities, etc. is tough. People being thoughtless with their words and hurting others, just mean. I have to remind myself we all can and should do better. Be thoughtful. Be caring. Be kind.

How do you help your child when others aren’t nice? How are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your child and others?

Fight On!

Does your child play a sport?

Our Friday evenings are filled with football games. Our oldest plays mostly center and on the offensive line for his team. Going to his games is a mix of nostalgia (my high school experience going to games), nerves (still getting to know parents of the other players), and stress (for my son and the other players safety, how the game will go, etc.).

When I was in high school, our team was good. It was fun to see them win, it stung when they lost, but socializing with friends was the best part. Fast forward to now, my son’s team did well enough to win their division last year (moving them up), and now getting pummeled every game this year — so painful. Yet, while defeat doesn’t feel good, and can shake your confidence, the kids seem to be taking it in stride, and the school community more focused on supporting the players and just being happy to be together.

My son’s coach’s motto is “fight on!” It’s been the motto of the team for many years. And while it’s focused on the game of football it certainly applies to life. Keep going. Get back up. Try again. Keep fighting. Fight on!

My son’s team is being put to the test this year. Continued losses make it hard to get back up, but they support each other, want to get the best out of each other, and show each other they have given it their all. It might not be reflected in the final score of the game, but in their resilience in the face of defeat these kids are learning, they’re winning.

How does your child handle defeat? What positive impact comes from it?

We will be celebrating an older family member’s milestone birthday next week, so I will be off, but back the following.

Weathering the Storm

Watching hurricane Ian sweep across the state of Florida was hard. It’s hard anytime you see a natural disaster happening and have no ability to stop or change the course of what’s coming.

This storm was especially hard as our family has many loved ones that were in its path. Add a particularly rough work week, and there were moments I felt I was barely able to hold it together (unsure if a good cry and screaming would have helped). Just one of those moments where you know something has got to give.

As a parent you want to shelter your kids from worry or concern. It moments of great stress, it adds more stress if you try to keep it inside. My husband was great. He could see the stress and offered hugs and words of reassurance (everything’s going to be okay) when I needed it. Instead of potentially scaring my boys more by losing my cool (snapping at something small), I let them know I was having a rough week. It was going to be okay, but I was stressed and they could help me just by doing what was asked and cut mom some slack.

They agreed. My youngest now asks us how our work days are at dinner (yikes? Maybe I shared too much😬).

The hurricane is still moving. Many are still in danger. I’m fortunate that our loved ones were spared. So thankful. My oldest knew his grandparents might be effected. He (who normally doesn’t show/share his emotions) texted me (because that’s how he likes to talk to me more often than not 😂) to ask how they were doing. I could tell from all his questions he was stressed at the idea they might not be okay. I reassured him they were fine and encouraged him to text them himself (why do we often get asked to be the messenger?🥰).

How are you weather storms (literal or emotional) that come your way? How are you helping your kid navigate stressful situations?

Teen Travel

Oh, I should have seen this coming. Finally able to travel post pandemic-✔️, have itinerary-✔️, have tickets-✔️, have everything packed-✔️. Everyone excited (pause for effect) — sort of???

Three out of four of us were really excited about getting away for our vacation, except for my oldest. There were complaints at every turn. The flight is going to be too long. This is going to be so boring. I’m going to make sure you understand how much I’m not ‘feeling’ this. 😂😭😬

He earned the nickname ‘sour puss’ at one point in the trip because there was no pleasing him. For those of you who have children that are grateful and can find the joy in things, consider yourself fortunate. Our youngest is wired this way. Our oldest isn’t. We’re aware of his need to be more independent and not hang out with mom, dad, and his kid brother, but during our trip it got to a point we had to have an impromptu family meeting in a hotel room to address it.

As a human, I was angry, frustrated, and angry (yes, I meant to say it twice). The planning, and investment, and all the wonderful venues and activities we had lined up weren’t appreciated (which as a human I thought—what am I doing so wrong that I’m raising an ingrate?). In fact, we were getting a lot of ‘why do we have to do this?’, ‘this is dumb,’ etc. As a mom, I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and not say something I might regret. I was the adult and I needed to act like it, but it was so infuriating.

When my husband and I had some time alone, we discussed the situation. I can remember trips as a kid where we were going non-stop all the time and the trip seemed more like a chore (at times) than a vacation. I could relate to how my son was feeling, but still irked at his behavior.

We sat as a family and discussed how the trip was going. We discussed how when one person complains and acts like they don’t want to be there, it negatively impacts all of our experience. “Just because you aren’t having the best time, doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for the rest of us.” Ruin might have been a dramatic word to use, but it had the intended effect. I can’t say my son ‘snapped out of it’, but definitely tempered himself.

We gave him some free time to go on runs, or explore around the neighborhood where we were staying. He even got into finding energy drinks they don’t sell here to bring home to a friend. It became part of a game, where he’d find a convenient store near whatever touristy thing we were doing, and see if he could find a new beverage. It was a compromise, and for the most part it worked.

We’re planning another dream trip (one we’d hope to do many years ago, but we’re unable to) next year. While we’re well into the planning stage we’re asking our kids for more feedback and involvement in the planning so we can all have the best experience possible (if that is possible???😂😭😬).

For me, this trip was about having a once in a lifetime experience with my family. Was it a great trip?✔️ Did we see and do a lot of new things? ✔️ Was it all sunshine and rainbows – absolutely not. Did we learn more about each other and grow as a family? ✔️✔️✔️

How is traveling with your family? What resistance have you had from your child (or teen), and how did you address?

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?

Having a Me Moment

My youngest is into transit — it doesn’t matter which kind — light rail, water taxi, metro/subway, train — he studies them (thanks to the internet) and enjoys learning all the ins and outs, including their layouts, how to navigate/makes transfers, payment accepted, hours of operation, etc. To most, that might seem boring. To him, it brings him to life.

We decided to go east for Spring Break. My youngest was the navigator as we used mass transit for most of our travel to get around. We took a light rail from the airport, then transferred to a metro line. We/He learned things as we went — what was running on time or delayed, payment challenges (for those who ride transit and have struggled with a ticket kiosk, you know what I’m referring to), poorly marked transfers (how in the world do we get to the green line, I only see an exit?), and entering the metro on the wrong side of the platform (oh no, is that the train we want to be on over there?).

My favorite was when we entered the DC metro for the first time. Clearly, this is what my son had been waiting for. He had the biggest smile on his face that expressed immense joy. “You look happy,” I said. “Mom,” my son replied with a smile even bigger, “This is one of the best transit systems in the US, even in the world. I’m having a me moment.” I just watched him as he took it all in. Side note: for those that aren’t familiar with kids on the autism spectrum like my son is, you may not know that one of their super powers is knowing what they like/are interested in/their passion. It is super inspiring to see.

While my son was loving our journey for the most part, he’d get upset with himself anytime a mistake happened. He prides himself of his knowledge and likes being thought of as ‘the guy that doesn’t need no stinking map’ (his grandfather coined that phrase for my son after my son told his grandparents he knew the full layout of an amusement park they’d taken he and his brother to and weren’t sure how to navigate without a map. He told them “we don’t need no stinking map. I know how to navigate this place!” And he did.😊).

I had to remind my son that mistakes happening is how we learn, and yes, it can be frustrating and doesn’t feel great, but we’re better for it, when we take something away we’ll do differently. He understood but didn’t like it.😊

My son having his ‘Me Moment’ stayed with me. How fortunate we are as parents when we see our child(ren) come to life —literally seeing their dream coming true before your eyes. It’s rare. Very rare. And, while at the time I don’t think I realized it, I (likely along with my husband) were having a ‘me moment’ too as parents witnessing this/experiencing this with our son.

What is your child passionate about? What ‘Me Moments’ have you witnessed/experienced?

Dreams Dashed

Have you ever had a dream dashed?

When I was young I swam competitively and loved it. I won most races and had my sights on being an Olympic swimmer — I had my heart set on it. I didn’t fully understand the investment of time or money that goes into making it to the Olympics, I figured if I continued to compete at the level I was it would just happen.

My family moved when I was 10 to a town that didn’t have a swim team with 30 miles of it so my Olympic dreams were dashed. I can recall being very upset with my parents that they didn’t realize the impact to me. Of course, my parents probably realized that they wanted to support me, but weren’t willing to let my love of sport guide what and where our family went next. My parents were more fully forgiven when I joined masters swimming (competitive swimming for adults) many years later and learned I had strong upper body strength but lacked the kicking strength needed to be at an elite level. In hindsight, my parents probably saved me a lot of grief, though I have wondered how far I would have gone if I’d have continued to swim in my youth.

My oldest has begged us to play tackle football since he was very young. We have said no, repeatedly, knowing the dangers of head trauma and how dangerous the sport can be. Our son never wavered. He would pitch us on why he should play, what he’d miss out on if he didn’t, and I have to admit I understood (my inner swimmer, in particular ) where he was coming from. He put a lot of effort into conditioning, even during the pandemic, and when they finally allowed students to do sports, we allowed him to join the team (with caveats, of course. A concussion will take him off the team).

He was nervous and excited about starting football. They practice daily and their first scrimmage is coming up. They are figuring out what positions the kids will play at and that has created a fracture in my son’s dreams of being a star football player. He’s played quarterback and wide receiver in flag football — very successfully in both positions. He’s grown though, and is more muscular now. He doesn’t have the arm for quarterback yet for the high school ball, isn’t running as fast as he used to and can block, but is up against guys twice his weight. After practice he came home defeated. “I suck,” he commented. “I don’t think they’re even going to play me.” I could see how devastated he was. As a parent, it’s one of those moments you wish you could take on your child’s pain for them. I reminded him that he is growing and the timing might not being aligning for him to be in ideal shape for any position now, but to keep working at it, and by fall, when sports resume, he’ll be ready. That didn’t seem to help. My husband also spoke to him and reminded him the importance of getting back up and trying again. My son’s dreams of being an star athlete are currently dashed, but we’ll continue to encourage him to not give up on himself so easily. This is a time of growth for him (mentally and physically). To see what he’s made of and capable of. I hope he sticks with this dream and sees it through and doesn’t look back one day and wonder what if.

How are you helping your child follow their dream? How are you helping them when their dream is in jeopardy?

New Year New Choices

Is your child a healthy eater?

Our boys are opposites in many ways. Regarding eating, my oldest has been a pretty consistent eater throughout his life. Food hasn’t seemed to be something that dominates his thoughts, mood, etc. His teachers talked about healthy eating when he was in elementary school and it resonated with him. He started to be more conscientious of his choices and wanted to be healthy.

My youngest has had a different journey. He was a very picky eater when he was young. He’d go days at his daycare without eating if the food being served wasn’t to his liking due to taste or texture (a big thing for kids on the spectrum). We often worried about him putting on weight, but that changed around the second grade. He started expanding his food universe, but it gravitated towards processed foods. Mac and cheese, bread, bread and bread. 😊 We’d attempt to get him to eat healthier options and would get gagging (sometimes regurgitation – yuck!), or he would dig in and not eat. It was a struggle. My husband and I had set out to make one meal for the family and everyone eat the same thing, but we failed. Three of us would eat the same thing (for the most part), and my youngest wouldn’t. #parentfail

Over the years the divide has grown. Our oldest is uber healthy. My youngest is not, but he understands the importance of eating healthy and is working hard to make better good choices.

At the start of the New Year, my husband recommended we hold eat other accountable in make healthier choices starting with making sure we’re each incorporating a fruit or vegetable into eat meal. He created a chart that each of us have to fill out daily. There was resistance as first, but we’ve all grown to like the chart. Seeing what we’re eating, thinking about what else we can incorporate. And our youngest has really stepped up to the challenge — Expanding his food universe in the fruits and vegetables category. It’s a small step but feels like a bigger (more important one to my husband and I). #parentsuccess

How are you helping your child to develop a healthy lifestyle? What challenge(s) have you come up against and how have you solved for it?

So Thankful

What are you most thankful for this year?

There is much to be thankful for me — my family’s health, having shelter and food, support and love from family and friends, and I can’t forget our cat who brings us so much joy.

Something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated was my sons willingness to talk openly to me. My oldest seemed quieter than usual and less interested in wanting to talk to me. When I’d try to engage him he’d grunt, roll his eyes, or get defensive, “I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” I wasn’t alone in noticing how my son was acting. When this behavior carried over into the following week I decided I was going to have to do something drastic to get him to talk to me so I could better understand what was going on. I did the only thing I knew to do — I asked him to go for a walk.

“Fine,” he said in a tone indicating going on a walk with his mom was the last thing he wanted to do. I think he resolved himself to the idea that I wasn’t just going to leave him alone. We walked for a few blocks and I asked, “What’s going on with you? You seem almost angry at me. If there’s something we need to talk about, let’s talk about it.” He seemed surprised by my question. “I’m not angry at you. My mood has nothing to do with you.” “What does it have to do with because you’ve been acting differently lately and I can’t help you if I don’t know,” I asked. He made a sound of frustration and finally said, “Everything sucks.” Okay, we’re getting somewhere now, I thought. “What sucks exactly,” I asked. “School for one.” “Is it classes, or your teachers or your friends…” my question trailed off. “My teachers are great, classes are fine. It’s all the stupid kids who go to that school. They’re all dumb and judgmental, and it makes me mad because most of the people don’t know anything about me.” I could tell from the way he was talking we’d gotten to the heart of the matter — he was struggling with how you show up to others, what value you bring, how others see you. How bad it can feel when you’re ignored, or feel like you’re being judged. We talked about friendship and how it’s like growing a plant — you have to care for it and feed it, or over time it won’t survive. We arrived back at our house and my son seemed more at ease. His dark mood seemed to subside. I was grateful he agreed to go on the walk. I’ve been where he’s been — we probably all have as teenagers — trying to figure who we are and where we fit in. I’m grateful he was willing to listen and take in what I had to offer, and I’m thankful he no longer felt that he had to try to navigate this on his own.

What are you thankful for this holiday?

I’ll be taking time off to spend time with family and will be back in December.