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?

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?

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?

Transitions

What transitions are you currently facing?

Transitions are a normal part of life. We’ve all experienced more dramatic transitions in the past year with COVID — being apart, remote work and schooling, etc. We’re transitioning again as those with vaccinations increase and COVID cases drop.

Coming out of COVID, there seems to be a heightened awareness of what each transition means – a BBQ with friends (luxury), attending an event with more than five people (a little anxiety producing at risk – it feels uncomfortable still, but then joy), and so on.

My youngest son’s school had its graduation ceremony since COVID that was both in-person and live-streamed. It was the first time our family, and many others had been in such a large group setting. We wore masks since many students are still not fully vaccinated and in a desire to be cautious and respectful of others comfort levels with masking.

After the ceremony was over, we went outside to a large open parking lot to congratulate the graduates and parents, and socialize. Being in the open, many folks removed their masks — another transition. It was freeing to see and experience for myself.

As we move out of the isolation and separation COVID brought, more noticeable transitions will come — returning to the office, school or not, for example. We’ll have a heightened awareness of them, and then we’ll get used to them and (potentially) take them for granted as part of life once more. Funny how transitions always seem to have a thread of “hard” (to do) in them, right? But transitions are essentially change and we know that change is rarely easy.

What transitions have you and your family already made? What transitions still await? How are you helping your child make transitions (back to school, parties, being with friends, etc.)?

Spring in Your Step

Are you glad Spring is here?

We often walk our neighborhood on nice days and seeing crocuses starting to bloom was our first sign Spring was coming. Next daffodils started blooming and now tulips are starting to come in.

I was driving my son to school and we noticed daffodils lining both sides of the road as we neared the drop off area. The impact it had was more than either he or I expected. It was similar to seeing lights or a red carpet leading the way. The beauty was striking. My son commented with a tone of awe “Wow, look at that.”

Something about Spring boosts our spirits and puts some pep in our step. It’s a welcome change from the cold, but also feels like it’s the path towards more togetherness and returning to things we’ve done without since the pandemic started.

Are you and your family feeling the same way? Is there more Spring in your step?

I will be taking next week off to enjoy Easter with family and will return in April.

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?

Talking with Your Kids about Racism, Injustice, and the Need for Change

What happened to George Floyd is horrific.

As my family and I watched the aftermath and the juxtaposition between peace and unrest it forced us, as a family, to talk in a deeper way than we might have otherwise.

As a parent it is important to me to help my children be better people than I am. I’d like to think that I’m a good person, but know there is always room for growth. And while I’d like to think I’ve always been open-minded and self-aware, the truth is that came with time. I’m trying to help ensure my kids are open-minded and self-aware from the get go.

Based on this, it is why we’ve talked about racism, inequality, and injustice (for those of different color, religions, gender identity, sexual orientation, gun violence, etc.) as a family, and why our recent opportunity to read together has helped us have these conversations.

It can be incredibly frustrating when the injustices are so blatant, and you raise your voice (participating in peaceful protests, write to your govt officials, and vote) and nothing seems to change.

I’m reminded that change being made is often met with resistance. It’s hard. It isn’t easy. And if you really want change, you have to keep raising your voice, and demanding it. Even if it seems exhausting and infuriating and disappointing in how long it can take.

As parents, we play a role in this change. In how we make our kids aware of the injustices that still exist today, how we have empathy for others, appreciate diversity, and how we have to use the tools that we have (voice, and actions) to be the change.

How are you talking to your child about what’s going on? How are you helping your child be the change?

Leaving the Pitch — Slowly but Surely

My son has decided he no longer wants to play soccer.

It saddens me for a few reasons:

  • He’s played since he was three, and it’s been a joy to watch him grow while playing the sport. When he was young, scoring goals was all that mattered to him. As he grew, he no longer cared if he scored goals. He was more interested in defending the ball on the pitch, or blocking shots as the goalie.
  • He’s had great coaches along the way. He’s been particularly lucky to play with the same coach for the last five years. The coach loves the game and genuinely cares about the kids. This coach reminded me of how it takes a village to raise our children, and this coach will forever be ‘one of our village.’ It saddens me to think my son won’t continue to learn from him going forward.
  • I’m reminded that change is inevitable. Many kids start to figure out what activities they’re interested in at my son’s age. My son has shown us signs that his interest in soccer has been waning. I’m aware that another milestone is passing, my son is growing, becoming more independent, more self-aware, more confident in who he is and what he wants to experience in life.
  • I’ll miss the other parents, and the comradery. I’ll miss the cheers, the wins and loses, and watching the kids grow together. There will be other sports and other opportunities for us to connect, but this special moment-in-time is coming to an end.

My son is leaving the pitch. While I’m flooded with memories and emotions of sadness and nostalgia, my son is filled with excitement — he is at peace with his decision. He’s ready to move on. And so am I…slowly but surely.

How do you experience change when it happens in your child’s life?

 

 

Falling in Love — Don’t Go Changing

Who was your first crush? How did you let them know you liked them? Were you yourself, or did you change yourself to try to be what you thought they’d want you to be?

My youngest is learning about love. He has had a girlfriend for several years. He adores her, and has already planned out their future life (where they’ll live, the number of kids they’ll have and their names). But, he has a new friend at school who insists she loves him. She’s new to his class and sits next to him.

With my youngest being on the autism spectrum, he struggles with social cues. Picking up on others non-verbal communication (facial expression, body stance, proximity, etc.) and sometimes struggles with their meaning. He often takes others very literally, but in the case of this young woman, he is confused when she says “I love you.”

I recently went to my son’s school to see him participate in a fundraiser (Walk-a-thon). His classmate was there and he introduced me. She said “Seriously?” with a nervous giggle. And when my son confirmed I was indeed his mom she said, “Well, please don’t take him away from me because I really like talking to him.” I was a little confused by this statement because there was no discussion prior around anyone taking anyone else away.  After watching my son with her for a little while I started to understand why this girl had feelings for my son.

My son doesn’t have many friends. He is a very lovable kid, but not understanding social cues has made it difficult for him to truly bond with others. This girl likes my son as he is. She doesn’t expect him to act a certain way, or want him to change. My son only knows how to be himself. He likes talking to this girl. He likes that she likes him as he is. He is excited by the prospect of having a friend. What I picked up at the Walk-a-thon was that my son is showing this girl attention she isn’t used to, he accepts her as she is, and isn’t looking for her to change. I know if I ever came across a boy who had so easily accepted me as I was at their age, I probably would have liked him too.

Now my son is dealing with a girl who doesn’t understand the way my son’s mind works, and mistakes his interest in having a friend, as him being interested in her as more than a friend. She recently wrote him a letter that he brought home. It read something to the effect of, “Are you mad at me? I hope not, because I love you and I miss talking to you. Please don’t break my heart.” It broke my heart reading it. She is so courageous to be so open and sure about her feelings. My son doesn’t love her. My son does like having a friend, and thinks this girl is nice. I’m not sure how she will understand that. My son has tried telling her, “I just want to be friends” after getting some coaching from my husband and his older brother, but she seems to be holding out hope that he will change his mind.

As a young person, I would have been crushed if I had had the guts to tell a boy I liked him and then he rejected me (telling me he just wanted to be friends would have felt like a rejection). When I was their age, I didn’t have the guts. I am aware of how we form opinions of who we are and what we have to offer the world early in life. When we don’t feel like we are accepted or our affections reciprocated it allows the seed of “I’m not good enough” to take hold. I don’t want my son’s friend to not feel she’s good enough. I’m not sure my son could or would handle it differently if he didn’t have the challenges that come with being on the spectrum. Maybe he would have not be so open to being friends with her, maybe he would have been more conscientious about how he was behaving around her or other girls. I’d rather him be who is as he is. Not getting caught up in ‘appearances’ — what you look like, who you’re friends with, what activities you’re into, where you live, etc. — is refreshing. People like this are rare. I get why this young person loves my son. I only hope that she can accept he likes her as she is, and she can like herself that way too.

How have you stayed true to who you are in relationship? How are you helping your child avoid the “I’m not good enough” seed from starting to grow?

Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that?” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?