What Exactly Are We Teaching — Checkpoint

Do you have those moments when you question what you have (or are) teaching your child?

Our oldest is off on an extended camping trip. He prepared for the trip, ensuring he had his gear, and everything on his checklist. He would have his phone with him, but coverage would be sketchy being in rural terrain. While we knew he’d like his phone to listen to music or a podcast, we were surprised when he wanted to use it to call us.

I’ve shared before, our son will do much to distance himself from us these days — even when at home, so it was a surprise when we got a call the first night he was away. He was with a newer group of kids he didn’t know particularly well and was getting adjusted.

We were surprised when he called again the second and third night. The calls were short, he mainly would run through what he had done, and share how he was doing mentally and physically. Part of me loved him calling. Knowing he was okay, and staying connected. Another part was concerned. Wouldn’t my son grow more (in his confidence, capabilities) if he weren’t in contact with us and made it through the trip without communication? I talked to my husband about it. We agreed that while this was a test run for our son’s future independence, our son needed to know he would be just fine going throughout the trip without being in contact with us. So hard, but needed.

We weren’t sure how to broach the topic with him, but two things came into play — coverage was spotty and some days he didn’t have signal, and his battery (even with power sticks to give him extended use) finally gave out. He’d be forced to go without communication for the second half of the trip. Was I worried? Part of me, yes. Not hearing from him makes he wonder what he’s up to and how he’s doing. But a bigger part of me, the part of me that knows I need to arm him with the skills he needs to be on his own, wasn’t.

I look forward to him getting home with these new experiences and knowledge of his abilities. I’m also waiting for him to want to distance himself again from his father and I. It’s part of growing up. He’s reminding me that I have to stop, periodically, and check in and acknowledge (or challenge) what I’m teaching him. And be aware that time is short as he’ll be off on his own before I know it, and I want to make sure I’ve given him all the tools he’ll need to fly.

What capabilities are you most interested in giving your child? What prompts you to check-in regarding what your teaching your child?

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?

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?

Debate

It never feels good to lose an argument. Especially one you’ve been preparing for.

My youngest’s class was preparing for Oxford style debates on topics regarding social issues, equity, and diversity. His team’s topic was the federal minimum wage, and his team would be arguing in favor of it. We talked about the debate in advance. He shared some of his arguments and his team’s counterpoints for what the opposition would likely bring up. He was ready.

When he got home, following the debate, he was ecstatic. “Over 80% of the students and adults in attendance (made up of student family members) voted in our favor. The other group got only 15%.” He was pleased and thought his team had surely won.

Imaging his (and my) surprise when he came home a few days later and shared the teacher had given the win to the other team, noting how well researched their information was, and their argument strong. My son was sad, disappointed (his team had gotten 80% of the vote!), and a bit confused. “I don’t get it. Our argument was just as well researched and we had way more support.” I understood the emotions he was experiencing, but didn’t have enough information to give him a ‘counter argument’ to why the other team had ‘won’ or in what areas the other team exceeded. My son could see my wheels turning and attempted to address what he thought was coming, “no, Mom, I feel bad and there’s nothing you can do about it. I feel like a dummy for being so wrong.” Of course, this didn’t stop me. 😊

“First, we don’t know why your teacher awarded the other team the win. I get it’s disappointing, “ he stopped me to let me know it was okay for him to have and feel his feelings, and I agreed (though I was super proud of the self-awareness and emotional intelligence my son was exhibiting). I continued, “when do we learn the most?” He gave me one of those I-know-the-answer-Mom-and-you’re-so-annoying. “When we ‘lose’. We reflect on what happened, what we can do better. You really aren’t experiencing a loss here.” He was still upset and we agreed it best to just let him feel his feelings for the time being.

Later that same week, we had end-of-term conferences. My son’s school is still small enough they can do these things. During the discussion the teacher (whom had overseen the debate, and teaches my son in several topics) shared my son’s progress, where he was strong, and areas of focus. Then he brought up the debate. Not to explain why my son’s team lost, but to praise him for his compelling closing argument. He played us audio of the event. My son spoke with passion, and confidence. He engaged the audience (including the adults) in a show-of-hands question segment (how many of you had minimum wage jobs? How many of you had too much money from working those jobs? Etc)—it was impressive. My son was surprised the teacher had thought so highly of his performance and he couldn’t stop smiling. The debate he’d had internally with himself over ‘what he hadn’t done ‘right’, or better than his peers, lifted. He regained his confidence.

It’s amazing to me, even as an adult, the value we put into how others see us, and how we let it effect how we see ourselves. Too often, we don’t get that second set of feedback or information like my son got from his teacher. Imagine if we did. Wouldn’t that be something? Maybe a good question for a future debate.

How do you help your child when they are disappointed by a loss? How do you (or others such as their teachers or coaches) help them regain their confidence?

I’ll be off for Spring Break with the family and will be back later this month,

Reluctantly Independent

My oldest has his license and can drive where he needs to most of the time (as he shares my car). With this independence, my husband and I expected him to want to do more driving and be out on his own, and he has sort of.

My son normally spends much of his free time with his best friend, who lives a few miles away. They often go to local parks to workout, and hang out with other friends. He and his friend where planning to go to a baseball game they had gotten free tickets to. My son decided he no longer wanted to drive. He asked if I would drop him off at his friends. “What’s going on?,” I asked,”why don’t you just drive yourself over?” He seemed aggravated that I didn’t just agree to drive him. Shaking his head (oh, teens! 😊) he said, “well, I’m not sure where I’m going to park for the game, and I might get too close to something and get a ticket.” I could feel his discomfort but knew I needed him to drive himself to his destination, for no other reason than for him to gain more confidence in his abilities. I needed him to know for himself that he could do this ‘new’ thing (park somewhere new where the rules might be a little bit different) and regardless of the outcome he could figure it out. When my son saw I wouldn’t budge from my position, he looked at my husband who’d been standing nearby and my husband confirmed with a simple ”nope” that he wouldn’t drive him either. My son, clearly unhappy, went to his room.

My husband and I discussed what happened. Why was our son suddenly wanting us to drive him? What was behind this? We know he has a bit of an anxious undercurrent going, it rises to the surface when he tries new things. Learning how to drive is about the most scary new thing you can do, yet my son knows how to drive and the new situation was getting him to challenge his independence and some of the uncertainty (growing, making mistakes, learning) that come with the territory. We agreed we had to hold firm, and if our son wanted to go, he’d have to drive himself.

When it was time for my son to leave, he exited his room, grabbed the car key, and went out the door. No “I’m leaving,” he just went. I knew in his quiet exit he was trying to convey “fine, I’ll do it (or I’ll show you!), but I’m not going to like it.” It felt familiar to me, and thinking I had likely handled situations similar when I was his age with my parents. 😊 Of course, he went to the game, had a great time, and had no issue with parking. I was grateful. While reluctant, by simply driving to a game, my son was growing in his comfort with his independence.

How do you help your child gain the confidence they need to do something that is new(er) or they aren’t comfortable with? How are you helping them gain an appreciation for what they are capable of?

A Good Day

If your child is 10 or older, how often do they tell you they’ve had a good day at school?

In our house it’s normal, particularly from our oldest, to get one of the following responses: it was okay, or terrible (which usually means it was boring or not being prepared for a test or quiz). Rarely is the response good (or anything better than okay). 😊

My oldest needed a ride home from practice. He normally will call me when he’s ready to be picked up. My husband decided to go to the school, in my place, to see what was going on when we still hadn’t received a call or text from our son at the usual time. Of course my son didn’t know his father was already there, so he called me. When I answered his call to let him know his father was there, I noticed a lift (or happiness) in his voice. I was bummed I wasn’t the one going to pick him up, his tone indicated he had something he wanted to either share or talk about. I live for these moments.

My son got home and seemed to be in a good mood, not an overly good mood, but better than your average day. His father mentioned, while my son was getting cleaned up for dinner, that he’d had a good day, and nothing more. As we were eating dinner I inquired with our son, “I heard you had a good day. What was good about it?” He responded, “Dad, have you been gossiping?” This reaction surprised me, I thought my son would just answer the question. My husband said, “All I told Mom was that you had a good day.” I chimed in again, because now my son had me really curious, “so, what was good about your day?” He paused, then said, “the weight room is open after school and they said I can use it.” He looked like he wanted to share more but wouldn’t. I let silence settle in as we continued with our meal. Finally, I had to take another try at finding out what he was holding back. “Was there anything else good about your day?” He thought, then carefully chose his words, “I guess it’s just how the day went. The first four periods, not so great, not so bad. Second part of day went better and knowing I could use the workout room and get all my exercises in felt great.” I knew he was holding something back, but decided not to pry further.

Later that evening, when it was just my husband and I, he gave me a little more insight into my son’s good day, sharing that my son had gotten paired with a classmate he was interested in and the conversation had gone very well. I could understand why my son wouldn’t want to share that in front of us. Liking someone and wanting/hoping to be liked back is when we are most vulnerable. The fact that he’s starting to explore this is exciting and scary (more so for him, but also for his father and I – will it work out, what happens if it doesn’t, we should probably revisit talking with him about healthy relationships, intimacy, sex and responsibilities as those are topics worth going over time and again, even when they’re uncomfortable).

I’m happy my son had a good day. I’m hopeful his confidence in himself and what he has to offer others (in a relationship) will grow. I look forward to the day he feels comfortable talking to me openly about it. And most of all, I hope I’m the one picking him up on his next good day. 😊

How do you get your child/teen to share how their day went? How are you making them comfortable so they can share uncomfortable information?

Sexuality

Puberty and sexuality were the two aspects of parenting I was happy I wouldn’t be challenged with for many years when my kids were young, but time has passed and we are now in the full swing of puberty and my boys exploring their sexuality.

My oldest is quiet in regards to his sexuality. He’s opened up to me in the past around feelings of possibly not fitting in one box. My response, that’s fine, you’ve got time to figure this out, Mom and Dad will support you regardless. My youngest is much more vocal and confident in his.

Being on the spectrum, it is not uncommon for sexuality to be more fluid. When my youngest was in elementary school he didn’t like “boy” things (sports, fighting, etc.) and said, “I wish I were a girl.” We explored if he truly wanted to be female and was struggling with gender assignment, but after talking more with him, counselors and therapists, he really liked being a boy (having a boy’s body), he just didn’t like the gender stereotypes that were being thrust upon him being male. We told him that he was perfectly fine as he is, and he needn’t worry about trying to conform or change.

Fast forward to middle school, puberty and sex education are big topics. My husband took both boys to a course at our local children’s hospital when each turned 11. My oldest found it a little uncomfortable but informative. My youngest found it informative and traumatic. When the instructor talked about the act of sex, my son got so upset he started crying and almost threw up.

They are talking about acceptance in his school and how to appreciate everyone as they are, including how they dress, talk, act, sexual orientation, etc. My son has gained confidence in expressing comfort in his differences. He shared one day in the car a few months ago, “Mom, I think I’m bisexual.” My reply, “That’s great.” I tried to just stay even keeled wanting to know I love him and support him no matter what. More recently he’s voiced that he is gay. To that, I’ve said, that is great too. He seemed to want to get more of a reaction out of his father and I when we were in the car driving together. “I just have to tell you, I’m pretty sure I’m gay and that isn’t going to change.” He was so happy about it, it made me smile, but I had to ask some clarifying questions. “Being gay is great, but I’ve wondered if maybe you’re asexual?” He responded, “No, Mom. Being asexual means you aren’t interested in other people. I am.” I continued. “I think asexual can also mean that you like other people but aren’t interested in having intercourse. Let’s look up the definition.” We looked it up. The definition we found read:

Asexual is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest in sexual activity. Some people consider asexuality to be their sexual orientation, and others describe it as an absence of sexual orientation.

Asexual can also be an umbrella term that includes a wide spectrum of asexual sub-identities, such as demisexual, grey-A, queerplatonic, and many others. Asexual people may identify as cisgender, non-binary, transgender, or any other gender.

After reading the definition I shared my observation. “I think you like others, and the idea of holding hands and kissing is fine, but you have no interest in sexual intercourse or touching. What do you think?” He thought about it and said, “You’re right. I’m fine with holding hands and kissing, but don’t want to do any of that other stuff.” My husband and I said ultimately it does not matter how he identifies now or in the future, we still love him just as he is.

It was important for me to have this conversation with him because as he becomes more independent and starts to explore acting on his attraction to others that he does so with all the information. I don’t want others to misinterpret his wants and desires. I shared with him, “if you tell people you are gay, they may assume you are comfortable with having sex. And if you are, that’s fine. But if you aren’t, that’s something you’ll need to let your partner know so there isn’t any confusion, and people don’t get upset or hurt.” We will definitely have to have more conversations with him as he grows to help him navigate (we’ll be learning along with him).

How are you helping your child accept who they are? How are you helping them better communicate their wants, needs, and desires to others?

Jealousy

Have you ever been jealous of someone else?

It’s a rhetorical question. Everyone experiences jealousy at some point. My oldest’s thinking on his athletic capabilities is being challenged this year in new ways. Where he once was confident, he’s now unsure. Who he is, if he isn’t strong athletically is depressing him, and his outlook for what the future holds. As a parent it is heartbreaking and scary to watch (how can I support him best? Get him out of this funk? Help him see he is way more than what he’s athletically capable of).

After a game, he got in the car and said, “I suck.” He proceeded to talk and talk. He is normally not much of a talker, so the fact that he was talking let me know he needed to. We got home and sat in the car talking for almost another hour. It came up that not only was he feeling bad about himself, but also envious of others — a peer, in particular, who is gifted athletically without having to put much effort in. “This isn’t even the sport he loves, and he’s a starter every game.” I attempted to help him see things from another point of view, but he wasn’t fully listening. He had dug in on the situation being dark and hopeless for him. I worried going to bed that night — would he be okay?

The next morning, after a good nights sleep, he came out to where I was. I shared I’d like to talk with him a little more whenever he was ready. I thought he’d delay the conversation but asked for a minute and then asked what I wanted to talk about. First I asked him if he was feeling any better and he said he was. Phew! I said, “ There’s two points I didn’t make last night, that I think are important. One, things feel really intense right now. You’re 15, you’re going through puberty, you’re still growing, trying new things, and everything can feel really intense,” he nodded in agreement, I continued, “things will get better. If I could go back to my 15 year-old self, I would tell her to be a lot kinder and to not take things so seriously. The second thing I want to talk about is jealousy. We all experience it. You need to understand that while you’re jealous of others, others are jealous of you — for reasons that are out of your control — you’re tall, math comes easily to you, you don’t want for anything. You may think ‘that’s crazy, no one would be jealous of me’, but I’m telling you it’s the truth. Remember that. Your friend can’t help he’s athletically talented. That has more to do with the genes he was given from his parents than anything else. He can’t help that. Just like you can’t help that you’re tall, or good at math, right?” He nodded. “That’s all,” I concluded. “Thanks, mom,” he said. Then we sat and watched a game together on TV. He seemed calmer and more at peace. I hope that is the case.

Has your child experienced jealousy? How have you helped them come to terms or work through it?

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?

Proud

When have you seen your child be proud of something they’ve accomplished?

My oldest is learning how to drive. Gulp. He is wired to be anxious in new settings and learning to drive has been no different. We started in a nearby church parking with lots of room so he could get a feel for the car. Learning simple things like wearing your seatbelt, using the gas and brake, and checking your surroundings. He was learning something new, and something that comes with great responsibility. He was nervous but willing to give it a try.

Starting and stopping. Knowing where to put your hands on the steering wheel and turning with crossing your arms were things he had to learn. The first lesson there was jerky motions, and “sorry, I’m sorry” when he did something not quite like he wanted to. It took me back to when I learned to drive. I remember my father teaching me how to first drive in a field, then on dirt and back roads. If he was ever nervous, he never let on. And I can remember thinking if he had confidence in me, maybe I should have confidence in myself.

In our state, you have to go to driving school in order to get your license if you’re under 18. Part of driving school includes driving time with an instructor. While I knew my son enjoyed the safety of practicing in the parking lot, it was time to get him on the road. I didn’t want his first time with the instructor to be his first time on the road.

I took him out and we started on a side street. I didn’t tell him where we were going, I just gave him instructions along the way. “Let’s take a left at this intersection.” “Turn your signal on.” “Go ahead and start braking.” “After you stop count to three before you go.” And so on. We were a few minutes in and he was doing fine but asked, “where’s a parking lot we can pull into.” I could tell he was uncomfortable that a busy intersection was coming up. Instead on pointing out the nearest parking lot, I said, “We’re not stopping. You’ve got this.” We proceeded to drive for a while longer. We went through another busy intersection. You could almost see his confidence grow and his anxiousness subside. At one point I told him he’d be driving us back to our house. “No way!” he said. His fear momentarily returned. Instead of going back home, I had him drive past our house and we drove for another ten minutes. I could see his confidence growing and took advantage of the opportunity to guide him back home and into the driveway. He put the car in park. Smiled, and exited the car.

When I met him inside he couldn’t wait to tell his dad what he’d just done. I told him what a good job he’d done. He was almost glowing, it was a wonderful feeling to know I contributed (even just by being there and believing in him and his abilities) even in a small way. He did all the work.

He went into his room and came back out after a few minutes. “Thanks, Mom,” he said. “I just needed you to know you can do it, and you did,” I said. “I’m proud of you.” He smiled and went back to his room.

We all need people to believe in us regardless of our age, but especially when we’re young. I thankful my father believed in me, and hope my son passes has a similar experience with his child one day. It’s a wonderful memory I’ll treasure.

My son has much more learning to do, and even though mistakes will be made it’s how he’ll grow and get better. And while I might feel proud, him being proud of himself is the greatest gift he can give himself.

What makes you proud? How are you helping build your child’s confidence in them self, and their abilities?