Storytelling

We read stories as a family. It is much more rare as our kids have gotten older. There is often pushback — no, ugh, why??? It’s so boring!. But when our youngest came in and said, “Mom, I just read the best book, and you have to read it too,” I knew family reading might be in our future.

My son had just finished reading Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. It’s about how we’ve justified the mistreatment of people of color for centuries through the stories we’ve been told, and allow ourselves to believe. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the contents of the book, but after reading it, upon my son’s recommendation in less than two days, it was the essence of what I took away. The mistruths of what I’ve allowed myself to believe up to this point made me uncomfortable but was also freeing. How could I have been so blind?

Now, before we go further, I’ll share that I, by nature, am a curious person, and am often seeking how to improve myself. I know I am flawed (we all are, we’re human). What happened to George Floyd really opened my eyes to the horrors and trauma that still occur today. It made me (and I believe many of us) want to explore our beliefs and behaviors, and change things for the better. I have actively been working on that, but reading this book helped me better understand how we (collectively as a country and beyond) got to where we are at. I knew we needed to read this as a family and my youngest agreed.

In lieu of a family movie night, we changed it to reading the book. Each of us would read a chapter. While our oldest pushed back — no, ugh!, this is going to be so boring! — it was quicker to read than watch a movie, and he liked getting time back, so he agreed. 😊

We read several chapters then talked about what we read. There was some reluctance on what some family members thought of as “feeling judged” by the author. My son and I disagreed and we proceeded as a family to work through the discomfort being felt. Why do you feel judged? Could/should we be judged in the future for things we still haven’t gotten right now (think equality, gun control, environment)? YES! At the essence, we discussed whitewashing, and how we “wash” over things because they make us feel bad or uncomfortable, and our need to understand things “as they are” and try to see others through a newer, clearer lens.

It wasn’t an easy conversation, but a needed and good one, and by the end I think we all had grown a little more. We still have more reading and growing to do, but I’m grateful that we’re closer to understanding reality for others, and learning how to improve ourselves as a result — in how we engage with, appreciate, and seek more truth vs. what makes us comfortable.

What stories are resonating with you and your family? What discussions are you having as a result that’s helping you (all) grow?

Facing Fear

While Halloween is this weekend and many are looking to be scared, my youngest was faced with a fear unrelated to ghosts and goblins, but something that had been haunting him for a while — riding a bike on public streets.

My son’s school has teamed up with an organization that has the students ride bikes to a destination within a few miles of the school one day a week. When they reach their destination they do a service project and then bike back to school. It’s been a great activity for the kids. My husband and I were curious how our son was doing. He had had a bad experience at a younger age when he biked on a public road accidentally running his bike into a car (I blogged about it previously). When we asked how biking went he gave short answers, and was vague. We started pressing him for further details and he confessed that he hadn’t been riding bikes with his classmates and had been staying behind at school with the teachers. We asked him why he hadn’t talked about this before, and he shared he had been embarrassed that he couldn’t do it. We talked through options: we could help him practice riding with us at home in our neighborhood to get him more comfortable, he could talk to his teachers about ways to help him get more comfortable. He didn’t take us up on our suggestions. Another week went by, another excuse why he didn’t ride.

The night before our son’s school was due to ride bikes again, my husband and I sat our son down. We stressed the importance of pushing his comfort zone, and his need to have success riding his bike. We told him our expectation was he would ride, and working through his fear was a skill he needed to develop, and that building it now, would help him when he needs to face uncomfortable situations in the future. He agreed he would ride.

I half expected to learn my son didn’t ride his bike again, but was pleasantly surprised when he texted me on his way home from school alerting me that he had ridden with the group the entire time. I was so proud of him, but what made me happiest was seeing how proud my son was of himself. He was glowing. What a wonderful moment to share.

What does your child fear? How are you helping them work through any fears?

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?

Fundraising

What has your child had to fundraise for?

I sold cookies, candy bars, a game of Monopoly based on our local town, and wrapping paper to fundraise growing up. I asked for sponsorship in walks, runs, and other physical feats to raise money to fund trips (camp, mission trips, school outing), or a good cause (awareness, research, prevention). While all things needed the money I never felt comfortable doing it (particularly when I sold things no one wanted, like the Monopoly game based on my local town).

Fast forward to present day, my son has been asked to raise money for his sport. The funding will help pay for equipment, uniforms and other things the staff and team need. They are asking each child to send out an email to 20 people they know (family and friends) asking for financial support. In normal times I would most likely be okay with this, however, with COVID and how it has impacted so many, not to mention what seems like non-stop natural disasters (flood, fire, hurricane, etc.) everywhere you look, it doesn’t feel right. I get the program needs the money. I also get that the staff are underpaid and don’t have the extra money to cover (nor would I expect them to) the costs to fund the sports program adequately. My son and I discussed.

“You know you’re supposed to be asking others for money for the team?,” I asked. “Really? No one said anything,” he shared. I explained that the parents had received several notices and that he had to set up a page and it tracked how many people they sent the solicitation out to (by # of unique emails, and by unique donation). There were prizes he could win if enough individual people donated. I then shared my discomfort with him doing this due to COVID, and so many hurting. His father and I could make a donation to hopefully cover what was needed from him. He said he agreed. I’m sure he felt relieved he wouldn’t have to ask others for money as well.

Raising money is something we all do to help fund the underfunded or good causes. It can be uncomfortable but rewarding when we see positive progress, or outcomes. Did our son miss out on an opportunity to learn the pros and cons of fundraising? In this scenario, yes. But he has fundraised before selling pumpkins, and Christmas trees, so he knows what goes into raising money including hard labor, selling a product, and helping give the customer good service so he increases his chances of a return (happy) customer. He’s even shared that it felt like they really earned the money when they raised it this way.

Solicitation for fundraising is an easier way to bring in money for a cause, but can also be oh, so uncomfortable. Am I missing out on an opportunity for my son to learn life lessons by not having him participate, possibly. But our hope is that he’ll be on the team in future years and we can revisit fundraising this way hen it feels more appropriate (more people are doing financially better).

How does your family handle fundraising requests? How do you handle any discomfort with asking or being asked?

Summer Camp Inspiration

What is keeping your child busy this summer?

Summer camps can be a godsend for parents when school is out — with the exception of the carpooling, odd hours, and cost, right?

My oldest decided he wanted to go to a specialty sports camp. It was a single day and very intensive. He was excited to go as the camp was touted as preparing the participants to become college athletes some day. I expected to hear all about how awesome the camp was when my son got home, but he was more in a daze (he got sunburned and had been outside for ten hours, but still).

“How’d it go?,” I asked. “Okay,” my son said. He was quiet. I had expected him to add more without prompting, but to no avail, so I continued, “was it all you were hoping for?” “Not exactly,” he said. He drew out the word not. “How so?” I asked. “We’ll, they had us run drills and this one coach kept yelling at me. I thought they were going to teach me, but I don’t feel like I learned anything new.” I asked him a few more questions then gave it a rest. He was clearly disappointed with the experience and exhausted.

About a week after this my son asked me to go for a walk. That rarely happens, so I jumped at the chance to get outside and have one-on-one time with him. As we walked he talked about his plans for the summer and things he wanted to do. As we walked the conversation went back to the camp he had attended. “I just can’t get it out of my mind what that coach said,” he started, “what he was asking me to do made sense but it was my first time doing it, so unsure why he kept singling me out and yelling at me.” We talked for a while about how the coach gave his critiques. Based on how my son described it the coach ‘motivated’ by shaming. I had to stop my son and make sure he understood something very clearly. “There are different ‘leaders’ that will come in and out of your life and will come in the form of teacher, your boss, and even coach. Leadership styles vary, but the best leaders know how to get the best out of you without having to break you down. When a leader feels this is the only way they can motivate you, it says more about them, than it says about you.” I corrected myself, “It says everything about them and nothing about you.” I explained further, “When you use shame or intimidation to motivate, it will work but there can be collateral damage, I.e., devastating consequences. You don’t want someone to be the best athlete or musician or dancer or worker or (fill in the blank), but be stressed all the time, hate themselves, and/or suffer mentally. You want to be led by someone who inspires you, understands how to get you to push beyond your comfort zone, and get the best out of you. When that happens you thrive vs. survive.” I took a breathe with the hopes that what I was saying was sinking in. “If the coach taught you a new approach and you think it’s a good one, then work on getting comfortable with it, and better at it, but do not waste one second allowing how he delivered his assessment to you sink it. Just let it fall on the ground where it belongs. He doesn’t know you or your capabilities. My guess is he would single out anyone he thought might make him look bad. Pitiful.” I rested my case.

My son was still taking in what I said. He shared other comments the coach had made that were directed at the larger group that confirmed my suspicion that this coach wasn’t someone I wanted my son around, and was grateful it had only been for the one day.

We’ve all had experiences in our lives where a leader didn’t necessarily show good character. It’s disappointing when you experience it, and angering when you see (of hear after the fact) your child did. I’m just glad my son shared. I hope he’ll take this lessen on leadership and look for leadership that will help him grow in a positive and healthy way — leaders who inspire him, push him to be his best, while appreciating him for who he is as he is.

What is your child doing this summer? Who are the leaders inspiring your child?

I will be off next week enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, and will return in July.

A Quiet Place

Things seem quieter now, right?

Having the out-of-the-house distractions go away at first was difficult. We are used to having noise around us. If you are like me, prior to the pandemic having the house be quiet — no sounds coming from from kids, my screens making noise, or the sounds of running, playing or arguing — felt good for a little bit, but inevitably the silence would turn to discomfort. I’d get a feeling I was wasting time and should be doing something. If I was doing something I would be making and/or hearing noise. Cue the tv or radio coming on (at a minimum). Hearing noise would calm me.

But now there is a lot less noise all the time — less traffic on the street, no groups of people gathering, no sounds of sports being played, or the kids running around outside with their friends — part of it makes me long for the past, but I’m hopeful for the future and know the noises will return eventually.

I’m trying to really embrace the quiet. When I talk to parenting groups it’s one of the tools I recommend — making quiet time for inward reflection. To inquire within yourself how are you doing and what do you need. It’s a great opportunity to just listen and see how your mind responds. When I do this I’m often surprised by what I hear — you need a hug, you need a break, you need to hear it’s going to be okay. I feel better once I can identify my need(s) and acknowledge getting them addressed (my husband and youngest son are always willing to give good hugs; my kids can help in the house and yard or cook a meal; my husband is always there to tell me it’s going to be okay). If something comes up they can’t address, I seek out others for what I need — talking to my girlfriends to keep those connections going, checking in on my parents to make sure they are okay, etc.

While it being more quiet may make you uncomfortable I’d encourage you to lean into it and see what ahas you have around how you are doing and what you need.

How are you caring for yourself, so you can better care for your family, during this time?

I’ll be taking next Sunday off to celebrate the holiday.

Up, Up, and Away

Does your child like to travel?

My oldest has anxiety when he travels — specifically to new locations. He isn’t worried about mechanical problems or turbulence, but the length of the flight, getting bored or uncomfortable in his seat, and worried about worst case scenarios when he reaches his final destination — it being unsafe, or getting lost, etc. Leading up to his most recent trip, he started showing signs of his anxiety in a number of ways — complaining “I don’t want to go”, getting angry “this is so dumb”, and muttering under his breathe “this is so stupid”. Keep in mind he’s 14, so these reactions are common when he experiences anxiety or discomfort regardless the situation.

My husband and I deployed multiple methods of working to help him work through his feelings in the days leading up to his departure. We had numerous talks, went on multiple walks. We reminded him that while he may be anxious about the unknown (and reassuring him that it’s normal to feel this way) that everything was going to be okay.

He and I talked the night before he left on his trip. I tried to get him to think about his fears in a different context. “How long, and potentially boring, the flight is going to be is a good problem to have,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “Think about it. There are kids whose family can’t afford to pay the rent, or struggle to put food on the table. To those kids, getting on a plane to go somewhere is a dream. The fact that you have this opportunity to see new places is a gift.” I could see, for a flicker of a moment, he understood what I was saying. He wasn’t done complaining or sharing his concerns with me, but I’m hopeful I got through to him and when his anxiety returns he can think of this is a larger context the problems that he’s experiencing are actually good ones to have, and instead enjoy the gift he’s being given.

How do you help you child when they have anxiety? How do you help them work through their feelings?

Who Do You Love?

What or who do you love?

My younger son can easily articulate what and who he loves. He says I love you to my husband and I without any discomfort, and for the most part is comfortable sharing his feelings openly and honestly with others. I think he is just wired this way. My oldest keeps his emotions close. He can come across as being quick to anger or unhappiness, but am now better understanding that it is his discomfort that is causing these emotional reactions.

I’m thinking of having my oldest keep a gratitude journal. Peggy Orenstein’s talk and my Head and Heart blog made me think this is one way we can help our son keep his head and heart connected. My hope is that by journaling he’ll grow to appreciate all the good things in his life, and that while disappoint and discomfort will happen there is a different way he can respond because he’ll remember he’s loved and has a lot of things to love in his life.

How does your child express their emotions? How are you helping them remember all that is positive in their life?