Dress to Impress

At what age did you become conscientious at the clothes you wore?

For me, it was probably middle school. I cared about clothes — wanting to look nice — probably as early as kindergarten, but middle school it went to a whole new level. I became concerned about what my clothes said about me — did I come off as cool, lame, trying too hard, not trying hard enough, etc. Add that I wasn’t petite or small by any stretch just compounded the issue.

Thankfully, I have boys, and while all boys are different my sons haven’t had much interest in what others think of their outfits. My oldest can be found most days rain, shine, hot, cold, and anything in between in a hoodie and sports shorts. My youngest likes graphic tees, but only when they highlight his interests.

On the first day of school, my youngest put thought into his outfit. He wasn’t so concerned with his appearance as he was with letting people know he has an interest in transit. He was adorned head to toe in all things metro/subway. He knew it was overkill, but wanted to do it, in hopes others would engage with him on the topic. He came home disappointed. We asked if he got any feedback on his outfit and he said he didn’t. I asked him what he thought others were most concerned about the first day of school. He said, “themselves,” as he sighed and rolled his eyes knowing it was the truth. “Give it more time. You keep wearing it (as he has many pieces to choose from) and people will eventually notice.” He knew that, but was still disappointed. I can understand. You try to get affirmation or acknowledgement from others, and do not always get it. Especially when you are seeking it in a covert way. I reminded him to just be himself. People are getting adjusted to new classes, teachers, and peers, and he’ll find his group (be them transit enthusiasts or otherwise) before he knows it.

What does your child/teen do to connect with others?

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?

The Christmas Letter

Do you send out cards for the holidays?

Every year we send out cards to friends and family. We like to include both pictures (so our loved ones can see how the kids have grown), and a letter that outlines what we’ve been up to. This year’s card I wondered if including a letter would be worth it, haven’t all of us (for the most part) been up to the same things for the past 9ish months?

I decided to give it a try. After getting the opening out of the way (how do you best start a greeting during a pandemic?), I launched into the details of what our boys were up to, what my husband and I are up to, and things that helped us during the year. Putting the words down in writing showed me that while life often felt like it’s been on pause, we’ve actually been doing a lot of living, and growing, and listening, and talking. We’ve been creative in how we connect with others — my oldest riding bikes with his best buddy, and my youngest connecting with his peers over a virtual game night — are two of many examples of how we found ways to enjoy it.

Writing the letter reminded me to keep finding joy in the present, pandemic or post-pandemic. And help my boys keep finding joy as well. We’ve got a lot more living to do.

What happened this year for you and your family that’s brought you joy?

While the Kids are Away, the Parents Will…

Has your child ever spent the night at their grandparents, or a friend’s house? Or gone away to overnight camp? How did you spend your free time?

My boys go away a few times a year — to camp, a school trip, or visiting their grandparents. Every time they leave, my husband and I have to figure out what to do with ourselves. All our parenting duties temporarily go away and we have to adjust to it being just the two of us.

When my boys were young, I coveted date night. Just having some time away with my husband was priceless. I desperately needed a break from my parenting responsibilities. But as my boys have grown and become much more independent, date nights are something my husband and I need. It’s no longer about needing a break, but instead about being connected.

A date night now can include simple things like a walk around the neighborhood, eating dinner together, or talking, about anything other than work or the kids. This time together reminds us why we’re together. When our kids are gone (particularly when it’s for several nights) we miss them, but know that they are growing with the experiences they are having, while we are strengthening our relationship while they’re gone.

How do you and your significant other stay connected? How do you enjoy your (kid) free time when you have it?

Date Night

How often do you get out for a date night?

My husband and I have tried to get our for a date night at least once a month since our kids were born. It wasn’t always easy to find a sitter, but we knew for the health of our relationship we needed it.

Our date nights have evolved as our kids have grown and become more independent. When they were young, our dates were planned, and would include a nice restaurant, and a movie or a show if we could swing it. But as the kids have grown, the date nights have become more casual, less planned. It’s just time for us to be together alone.

On our vacation this summer, the kids were happy after a day of being outdoors to have some downtime (or should I say screen time). My husband and I suggested one night early in the trip that we should figure out what we wanted to do for dinner. My oldest quickly piped in, “Why don’t you all have a date night. We’ve got snacks we can eat here.” My husband and I looked at each other. “Are you sure?” I asked, “Because we won’t be bringing anything back for you.” “Yes!,” both sons chimed in. My oldest finished with, “Go!” My husband and I shrugged and headed out. We had a nice dinner, we got to talk about the trip, how things were going with us, and how things were going with the kids. We talked about the upcoming days and our plans, and just enjoyed each other’s company. It became a common theme throughout our trip. We had dinner as a family most nights, but several nights the kids would insist it should be a date night and my husband and I didn’t resist. It’s nice that we all enjoy each other when we’re together but need our space so we can enjoy each other even more when we all come back together.

How often do you have a date night? How are you connecting as a couple during time away from your child?

A Walk in the Woods

Where do you have the best discussions with your child?

We were attending a year end picnic with my younger son’s class. His older brother did not want to be there — fearing embarrassment from being associated with younger kids (how uncool, right?). While our younger son played with friends, my oldest asked his dad to go with him on a walk in the woods that surrounded the picnic area. They were gone 30 minutes or so. I didn’t mind. It was nice to being able to watch the kids enjoy themselves or talk with another parent. When my son and husband came back he asked, “Mom, do you want to go for a walk?” I wasn’t expecting to be asked, but gladly accepted. We walked and talked and walked and talked and walked and talked some more. It was a nice conversation where we got to talk about deeper things — the intricacies of relationships, being vulnerable, being judged, being true to who you are — by the time we got back we’d walked over three miles, but it didn’t leave me tired. It left me feeling energized, even elated (my teenage son will still talk to me — yes!). 😊

When my son allows me to talk with him — not to him, but with him — it feels like I’ve struck parenting gold. Moments I’ll certainly remember and I hope he does too. I hope he thinks of such conversations as being open, honest, loving, and empathetic. I hope he feels the love, support and encouragement I’m trying to share.

How does it make you feel when you connect with your child on a deeper level?

Ready Player Two

Do you let your child play video games?

I’ve shared with you before that we don’t have a gaming system in our house. We do have computers, phones and tablets, so while my son sometimes thinks our family not having a XBOX or PlayStation is ‘the worst’ though he’s really not all that deprived.

Over the holidays I was finally able to watch the movie my son had been talking about, Ready Player One. A movie about how gaming had taken over, and the fight to remind us what is really important was on (spoiler alert: connection). 😊 I was surprised at how much I liked this movie. Perhaps it was the nostalgia tied to the 80s throwbacks (music and games), or how smartly the story was told, or the fact that connecting at a human level — friendship, treating others as equals, and finding room to share success — all resonated with me. While the movie was titled Ready Player One, it left me with a Ready Player 2 feeling (we are better together in numbers).

We went away for a few days over the holiday break. The place we go to has a game room. My son asked me to accompany him to the game room. The XBOXs were taken but an old arcade style game was available. “Wanna play?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied. He hit the 2 player button and we each took turns at Pac-Man, Galaga, and Astroids. It was fun to play together. I was good at some of the games, but he was better at most, and I was fine with that.

After the trip everyone shared their favorite moments. He said, “Going on hikes, and going to the game room you, Mom.” It was a highlight for me too (though maybe for different reasons?). 😊

I look forward to any activity my son wants to engage me on. I’m ready. Consider me player 2.

How do you and your child connect over games? What are some of your favorite memories?

On the Road (Again)

Do you have to travel for work?

I am on the road once again. This year looks to be on that will involve more travel than I’d like. My kids are older, so it’s not as painful as it previously was. They are able to get themselves ready, lunches made and out the door with little effort (other than nagging) from my husband or I. We still have to drive them to various spots, but that seems more of an inconvenience (a needed inconvenience) than additional stress, and when one of us is away the other picks up the slack easily.

My sons are better able to handle one of us being away too. FaceTime helps — me mainly — I need to ‘see’ everyone’s okay.  When I call I often find my kids are happy as clams watching whatever is on Cartoon Network — my call becomes a ‘distraction’ from an episode they’ve probably already seen a dozen times.  They’ll throw me a bone and say “hi, Mom” and ask “How was your day?” and I may get a few more nuggets of what happened during the day. I’m tired, they’re distracted, not ideal for a meaningful interaction, but I’m glad we do it regardless. The guilt I’ve felt in years past has dissipated a bit. It’s still there, but not as strong as it previously was. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve gotten accustomed to me traveling or my kids (and I) seem to be able to handle it better, or both.

Traveling does remind me that I’m missing precious time with them. The meeting or event may feel really ‘important’ but when I see their little distracted (yes, by the cartoon or video app or whatever has their attention) faces, I’m reminded of the time I’m missing being present with them. How quickly they are growing up, and how I can’t wait until I’m back home again.

How do you stay connected with your child when you are traveling?

Mom Fail

As a parent, have you ever had felt despite your best efforts, you just can’t do anything right?

I’ve certainly felt this way: when my sons have rejected clothes, toys, food and me! It’s a terrible feeling. You’re trying to do your best by your child, and don’t feel like you’re getting it “right.”

A girlfriend and I were swapping Mom stories one day. Here is how the exchange went:

“I had no idea how much work the Daddy Daughter dance would be to coordinate.”

“I know what you mean. Hang in there. The event will be great.”

“I got my kids to school 30 minutes late today. Mom Fail!”

“No way. You’ve got to cut yourself some slack. You’ve got a lot going on.”

“Thanks I needed to hear that.”

“Absolutely! You’re doing great. Keep me posted on how things go.”

Later in the day, it was I who needed my friend.

“I’m in the ER. Swallowed something he shouldn’t have. 😦 Ugh. How many times have I told him you only put food and water in your mouth!?”

“Oh my gosh, how are you doing? Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. I will feel better when he get’s a clean bill of health.”

“Prayers coming your way. Keep me posted.”

“Thanks.”

a while later…

“Just got the green light. He will be fine. So thankful. Appreciate you being there.”

“Great news. So happy to hear it. Talk to you soon.”

 ** ** ** ** **

Both my friend and I started out by sharing how we’d “failed” as moms. Of course, as a parent you go through ups and downs. An ‘up’ for me, is when one of my sons accomplishes something or has an insight that he’s proud of, and I quietly think/hope I may have influenced or inspired it. A ‘down’ comes when I have to argue or be stern with my boys to get them to do something (homework, eat, etc.) or they experience something avoidable (like swallowing something that isn’t water or food). In these moments, my mind wonders to think if only I were a better parent. Ever have one of those moments?

As a parent, we can, too often, beat ourselves up when things don’t go right. There is no perfect parent, or perfect parenting. There are an infinite number of styles, and if your motivation is doing what’s best for your child (not what your child wants, but what’s best for them), you are probably doing a pretty darn good job. My friend and I may have felt like parental failures, but only in the moment. Upon reflection, it was such moments that allow us to stop and reevaluate how we are doing as parents, and adjust (or readjust) as needed.

How have you dealt with moments when you felt like you weren’t at your parenting best? How did you recover from it?

 

It’s Just Brunch

When you first had your child did you worry about when you could return to activities you enjoyed prior to becoming a parent?

When I first entered motherhood, I had two realizations: I love my son, and I loved my old life, how can I honor both?  I was stumped. As a new parent, I thought sacrifice was paramount to being a ‘good parent’, and anything else was selfish. This kind of understanding and thinking was a rookie mistake on my part. What I learned was that while parenting requires sacrifice, it also requires taking care of yourself so that you can give your child the energy and attention they need from you.

When my son was young, my husband and I were lucky enough to be in a PEPS group (Program for Early Parenthood Support) and were surrounded by other families who were just starting out as parents like we were. We were encouraged to have a Moms Night Out (MNO) where the dads would watch the kids while the moms had dinner, and vice versa, so the dads had an opportunity to do the same. I lived for those MNO in the early days and looked forward to them. But as our kids got older, and required less of us physically, the need by all the moms for these MNO diminished. We probably haven’t had a MNO in years.

In those early days, I needed a reprieve from being a parent. I needed to be with others my age for adult conversation and interaction. I was very mindful of this need in the early days of being a parent. I’ve gotten a bit away from it as my children have grown and become independent.  That is, until, a girlfriend of mine reached out to go to brunch. As a working parent, she realized with all the stresses from work and home life, she needed to connect with others and became proactive about doing so. Thankfully, I was one of the friends she reached out to. “Let’s do brunch,” she said. Oh, brunch sounded nice. I hadn’t done brunch without family members present in a long time. I mean a loooong time. I loved the idea, and eagerly accepted her invitation. I loved having brunch with my friend. She reminded me that it’s okay to start reclaiming your independence and take time for those activities that are important to you — like keeping up relationships and having a good meal that is kid-free.

What kid-free activity have you reconnected with since becoming a parent? Or what activity do you want to? What helped you or what’s holding you back?