Lessons from the Corn Maze

Have you ever been lost?

It’s not a good feeling to be lost in an unfamiliar setting. Except, perhaps, when that unfamiliar setting is a corn maze.

We went to our favorite pumpkin patch with other family members to pick out pumpkins, snap pictures, and drink some cider. The kids wanted to do the corn maze. We’ve had varying degrees of success with corn mazes. When they were younger, we’d accompany the kids. As the children grew older they wanted to show us they could do the maze on their own. What’s the harm? we’d thought. One year four kids went in, three came out. We waited, and waited, and right around the time we were going to go in we saw my son walking through the corn. Not the maze. The corn. He had gotten so frustrated by the dead ends he’d decided he would make his own way out.

In our most recent trip, my nephew and brother-in-law went into the maze a few minutes after my boys and their older cousin had entered. We were surprised to seem them re-emerge before the older kids did. “Did you see the others?” I asked. He shook his head no. Hmmm. I wasn’t too concerned because I knew the kids would figure a way out — even if it meant walking out through the corn.

The kids finally emerged. They were laughing and at ease. “Did you all get lost?” I asked. “Yea,” my older son commented, “there were so many dead ends.” The kids walked on, un-phased by the situation they had come from. They left the maze behind without thought and walked towards wheelbarrows filled with pumpkins.

I thought about how often in life we can feel lost — the first day of school, moving to a new place, starting a new job, becoming a parent — and how you have to quickly figure out how to acclimate to make it through any discomfort you feel. There is always a way to work through being uncomfortable. Whether it’s taking a straight path (walking through the corn) or being willing to let yourself be lost for a while knowing you’ll eventually figure things out (like my kids and their cousin not letting the dead ends defeat them or dampen their experience).

How have you handled times when you felt lost? How are you helping your child acclimate when they do?

Catch and Release

Does your family have a pet? Does your pet ever bring something into the house you wish it hadn’t?

We love our cat. He brings us all kinds of joy, but lately he’s been bringing us a bit more. Mice and birds to be exact. When our cat first joined our family, he was an indoor cat. After several months, we found a pet door that would let him leave and re-enter by detecting the chip he has. We figured this would give him freedom and would keep other animals from entering. What we didn’t account for was that our cat would hunt for prey (mouse or small bird), catch it, and then carry it in. Our cat doesn’t realize it prey wasn’t dead, but playing dead in order to survive. Our cat brings in the critter, lays it on the floor, looks at us with pride (see what I did?) and when we approach, it never fails, the prey suddenly comes back to life and scampers off. Ugh!

One day, he brought a finch in in the morning and a mouse that night, my oldest son, who tends to go to bed the latest and was met with the mouse this particular evening, put his foot down. “We’re locking the cat door at night! I can’t take another animal getting in here.” My husband and I were becoming pros are catching and releasing the prey, and we too were getting tired of our cat bringing small animals in. So we did. Of course, our poor cat is thoroughly confused. The door that let him in and out at will, now doesn’t–it’s open during the day and gets locked at night (prime hunting time). His pride in catching the prey is now viewed as did I do something good or wrong? We’re working with our cat to teach him this new boundary (can you teach cats this?). It’s interesting to see us, as a family, all being on the same page with how best to address the situation. The parental power dynamic is removed and instead it’s how do we solve this together?

Raising kids reminds me of what we’re working on with our cat. You sometimes give them some freedom, and then have to reign it back in when you see either they aren’t ready for it, or it’s being abused. It helps when everyone agrees there is an issue and decides how to best address it together.

How are you giving your child more freedom? Have you ever had to reign it back in?

Zip Lining through Fear

Does your child seek out adventure or shy away from it?

My oldest loves thrill rides, and is more often than not, open to trying something new. Even if it might be a little bit scary. My youngest is opposed to thrill rides, and generally opposed to trying anything that involves taking a visible risk. I understand. I was scared of the same things when I was young, but through the encouragement of my parents (largely my father who reminded me, time and again, that I could do this, and that everything would be okay) I learned to not only overcome my fears but be willing to take risks.

We decided to go to a zip line operator to do something fun as a family over the holiday weekend. We knew going in we’d all be a little nervous once we got to the top of the zip line, but thought the fun of doing it together was worth it.

I went first, my youngest son after me followed by my husband and his older brother. When my youngest got to the first platform he was scared. I thought well goodness we’re not even half way up. He looked at me and said, “A bee is stinging me.” The platform wound around the tree making it awkward for me to get to him quickly to try to help. I managed to get to him, saw there was a bee on his shirt and tried to shake it off. I thought I had when my son cried, “Mom, it’s stinging me. Make it stop.” I thought the bee was gone, but when I pulled my son’s shirt away from him the bee flew out. I thought oh no, do we go on? Do we stop? We were only on the first platform. After everyone had calmed down I looked at my son. “The bee is gone now. Are you okay? Are you ready to move on?” I don’t know what possessed me to say that, maybe it was the fact that my son is getting older and things like this can happen. I didn’t want the bee to be the end of our experience. He nodded and we kept moving forward. We got to the next platform and while crossing on the bridge (which honestly was pretty scary as there were big openings where you could see the ground directly below your feet) his harness came down around his legs. This can’t be happening I thought. Maybe someone was trying to tell us not to zip line? Thankfully a staff member saw what happened and quickly got to him and got his harness back on and tightened properly. We finally reached the zip line. He was behind me as I got ready to go. “I’m scared,” he said. “I am too,” I said, “I can only get through my fear if I go.” I stepped off the platform and off I went. Almost instantly my fear was gone and I was enjoying zipping down the line. “It’s great!” I told my son as I was soaring through the air, “You’re going to love it.” It took him a while to get his courage up to go after me. My husband was on one end encouraging him and I was on the other. After a few minutes, he stepped off the platform and came hurdling towards me. I could see that he too had moved from fear to that’s what I was so worried about?

When he was off the zip line he was so proud of himself, and so was I. He had many opportunities to turn back, say “I’m done”, but he didn’t. He showed himself he’s tougher and more capable than even he could have believed.

How does your child work through fear? How do help show them what they are capable of?

Overcoming Fear

What scares you that doesn’t necessarily scare others?

For me, it’s been horses. Not to see them, be near them, or even pet them. It’s riding them. I’ve been opposed to doing so most of my life.

My fear of horses came from experience. I’d gone to a two week long overnight camp when I was 10 or 11, that offered extracurricular activities. I knew a few of the girls going to camp and they suggested we all sign up for horseback riding. So I did. When we went to ride horses for the first time the camp counselors asked me my experience level. I should have said “beginner”, but instead I said, “intermediate.” I paused, did I say that to impress my friends? They all did have riding experience and I didn’t want to be left behind. “Are you sure?” The counselor asked. I think she picked up on my uncertainty. “Yes,” I said, trying to put a brave face on. “Okay,” she replied, and so I was put in the intermediate group. It was clear fast that I didn’t know what I was doing. The instructors helped me, but I could easily tell these creatures needed to be handled a certain way — a way that an experienced rider would know — needless to say, I was scared.

Every day we would ride a different horse. Most of the horses were easygoing, and relatively easy to handle. I was grateful. Then one day I was told I’d be riding Lightning. He was a bit more to handle but the instructors told me I was ready. Well, I wasn’t. I got on the horse and it took off at full speed. I was holding on for dear life and had no sense for how to slow him down. After several minutes, and with the aid of others, the horse finally calmed down and I was able to safely get down, but not without feeling traumatized. I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. I was told by the counselors what happened wasn’t my fault, but I was done with horses. Done. Until this year.

We had scheduled to visit some of the National Parks (Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce). My husband wanted to set us up for some ‘experiences’ for the family while on the trip. One was going to the Antelope Slot Canyon and doing a tour. Another was doing horseback in Bryce Canyon. I had a decision to make — continue to be scared of riding horses for the rest of my life or face my fear. I thought it was time to address it, and an opportunity to show my kids that anyone can conquer a fear at any age.

We got to the stable the morning of our ride. I was given the tallest horse in the group. Gulp. They helped me on the horse. I was scared, but I saw my sons ahead of me on their horses. They seemed calm, I figured I should project calmness myself. ūüėä

The horses started down the canyon. I felt like a giant rocking back and forth so high in my saddle. Our wrangler was good — very straightforward, knowledgeable and encouraging. He helped build both my sons confidence in riding and mine. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon my fear had subsided and we were all enjoying ourselves.

When we returned to the stable, we got off our horses. “What did you think?” I asked my boys. “I was scared at first, but after a while I really enjoyed it,” one son said. “Me too,” the other chimed in, “I’d definitely do that again.” I decided to come clean with my boys. I hadn’t said a word about my fear of riding as I didn’t want them to take on my fear. “I think I overcame my fear of riding horses today,” I said. “You were scared?” they asked. I told them the story of camp and shared how it was likely the difference in the immaturity of the camp counselors (who couldn’t have been more than 17-18 at the time) and our wrangler who was mature and wise regarding horses that made the difference. “Mom thought it’d be a good idea to show you you can overcome fears, and try things again, even if you haven’t done it for decades.” My boys just smiled. I smiled too. Any fear we had was behind us. It was a good day for us all.

How do you help your child work through fear?

All That is Green

Has your child ever felt overwhelmed?

My youngest son came home from a bad school day. His teacher had sent an email alerting us before the end of the day that our son struggled with an assignment the class was given — to write about how to help the environment.

When he got home I asked how his day was. “Okay,” he said. “Really?,” I replied, “I was under the impression you didn’t have a great day.” He could have asked how I knew he’d had a bad day, but instead said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Okay,” I said, “but it’s going to be hard for me to help you if you won’t talk about it.” He sighed, “Maybe later.”

We got some dinner. Once he had food in his belly, I asked if he was ready to talk. He wasn’t, so I gave him a choice. “We can talk about this on the way home in the car, or when we get home, but we are taking about it.” He agreed to discuss it on the car ride home.

He started off, “This is very upsetting. I really don’t want to talk about it.” “What is making you so upset?”, I asked. “The future,” he said. Okay, that’s a broad topic, I thought. “What about the future are you most worried about?” “Well, everything,” he replied. “How does your fear about the future have to do with your assignment on the environment?” I asked. He didn’t say ‘duh’ but he might as well have. “Mom, were not doing enough to protect the environment and it’s only going to get worse. And I mean really, really bad.” Aha, I thought, climate change is showing itself in more extreme weather and there is right to be concerned about it getting worse in the future, but that is true only if we don’t acknowledge the problem and do something about it. “Okay, I think I better understand.” It took some more going back and forth before I fully understood that my son was getting overwhelmed by the assignment thinking he had to figure out how to solve all the problems, versus finding simpler doable solutions that could have a positive impact. By the time we parked the car at home he felt better, was more relaxed and seemed ready to rethink how to tackle the assignment. “Picking up trash, helps the environment. Saving water. Conserving energy. Composting.” I could tell he was thinking.

Getting overwhelmed doesn’t feel good at any age. It’s being about to break down what’s causing into smaller chunks that are easier to deal with. Helping you see the forest through the trees.

I’m glad my son is concerned about the environment. I hope this assignment prompts he and his classmates not only to think about it, but to take action and inspire others (including their parents perhaps?) to join in and do even more.

What are you and your child doing to help the environment?

Kid Pride

What makes you proud?

My youngest son starred as Aslan, the lion, in his school’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He has participated in school plays each year, and has had speaking parts, but this year’s role was as one of the lead characters meant more lines to memorize, and more pressure to get things right.

We rehearsed the lines over a few weeks. I was impressed at how much he had learned on his own, and really enjoyed working with him on his lines– it made me feel like I was helping him in some way.

Following the final rehearsal he came out of the dressing room looking down. I could tell he needed some space. I know how tense it can be in the final days of practice and thought maybe some of his fellow actors, or the director had given him some feedback he didn’t want to hear. When we were close to leaving the building we saw the director, who asked my son if he would come early the next night so he and the other leads could work on a couple of scenes. My son broke down. “I’m not having fun anymore. I don’t want to do this.” I was caught off guard by the comment and was thinking how do I get him back onboard? Aslan not being in the play.would be noticed. ūüėä Thankfully, the director approached my son in a way that indicated this wasn’t the first time one of her actors had second thoughts about their role. “What’s going on?,” she asked. “People are going to laugh at me. The other actors aren’t taking the play seriously. It’s going to be horrible.” The director gave a knowing look as if she’d had this conversation with many others in the past, and reminded him of plays from previous years “other times we were a lot less prepared than we are now and everything turned out fine.” She spent more time talking my son through the moment, giving other examples about actors who were nervous or stressed or didn’t think others were taking things as seriously. She finished by telling him how important he was to her. “You’ve been acting for me for years, and have grown so much. You don’t realize it now, but you’ve got this. You’re going to do great tomorrow.” She reminded him of the first play he did for her, Elephant and Piggy. He laughed remembering his part from long ago. His demeanor changed. He left the dark cloud he’d been under and seemed to move to a lighter brighter one.

Opening night he was in better spirits. He was relaxed, and seemed more ready. He nailed the performance. I realize I’m his mom, but I’m not sure anyone could have done a better job than he did. All family members who were there couldn’t have been prouder of him, but I don’t think that mattered. What did was that he realized what he was capable of, and that he was proud of himself, and nothing feels as good as that.

What makes your child proud?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. ūüėä We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

Kids Choice – Dealing With Loss

When have you had to console your child when they experience loss and there is no way to soften the impact? It’s heart wrenching, right?

I had one of those moments on Tuesday night.¬†While I was shocked as the results were coming in (and trying to handle my confusion and intense disappointment as¬†discretely as I could), I wasn’t expecting my kids reaction. When I went to¬†tuck them in, my youngest asked me if Hillary won. I told him “it doesn’t look like it.” He got fear in his eyes. He started to cry in a way I’ve never seen. What he said next jarred me. He didn’t say, “Why?” or “How could this happen?” That would have been expected. Instead he said, “Oh my gosh. We’re going to go to war! The country is going to be so bad.” War? I thought. Where did that come from? He’s really scared to think we are going to war.¬†And how in the world did he grasp my own fears? That our country is taking a huge step backwards¬†for women and minorities, the¬†sick, the poor and mentally ill and all other marginalized groups.¬†My older son joined in the conversation, he was equally distressed. “Why can’t kids vote? We never would have let someone like him be President.” My son made a good point.

Children have a wonderful inability to filter themselves when they are young. And they have an even¬†greater ability to filter through BS. Politically correct is, well, not in their vocabulary. While there are certainly situations where¬†you can grimace as a parent for what your child said out loud, there is something very straightforward about their views.¬†They see things for what they truly are and convey them in black and white terms: you are nice, you are not nice; you are good, you are bad; etc. This ability came through¬†Tuesday night. “I hate that I’m not allowed to vote until I’m 18. That’s ridiculous. If you asked the kids, none of us would ever vote for someone who was so mean, hateful and a bully!” my oldest said. While there was a big part of me that wanted to join in and bash the results and those who voted for the other side, I could tell what my kids most needed was for someone to tell them that¬†everything is going to be okay, even though as their parent, and a woman, I’m not sure I believe it.

“It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this,” I said. My youngest son didn’t buy it. He looked me in the eyes with that same terror pleading me to tell him I was kidding, or somehow the election results were going to turn out differently.¬† I didn’t know what else to do but to hug him. We were both experiencing a huge unexpected loss. We both felt the impact, and while they say time heals all wounds, this seems like a wound that will be opened for the next four years at a minimum.

I am grateful for educators at my kids school that brought the kids together to talk through the results and let the students voice their opinions to help them deal with their feelings. I am grateful for where I live and how people here are willing to stand up and say #notmypresident. And that many business leaders and local government officials have publicly said that won’t tolerate¬†discrimination and hate, and are trying to give grieving adults the same message I gave my boys — we’ll get through this somehow. We just¬†have to stick together.

Sometimes you can’t make sense of things, and sometimes you have to figure out how to make the best of a situation. I love the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is better to¬†light a candle than curse the darkness.” There feels like a lot of darkness right now and I, as a parent, need to figure out how to light a candle. I can’t let an election determine how my neighbors, or my kids classmates and their families are treated, we all are more alike than¬†different and we all have to figure out how to come together and work together. No more division, no more fear.

How do you console your child when you are in an inconsolable situation, regardless if its the loss of a loved one or the results of an election?  How are you helping your child when you are experiencing your own grief?

 

Parenthood – Cracking the Code

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

A good friend recently had a baby and was asking for advice and my take on her baby’s progress. The baby, who had once been a good sleeper, was now sleeping in short stints which concerned her.¬† As we talked about the situation she shared how much she craves learning parenting tricks-of-the-trade, in hopes of shortening the length of time she continues to feel anxiety¬†as a new parent, and fearing she¬†is somehow unknowingly doing wrong by her child simply because she doesn’t know everything.

“No one knows everything,” I told her, “No matter how long you parent. Much like you’re child is learning, so are you. But let’s think about what insights I can share that might help.” I don’t know if I came up with anything profound. I think I shared what most parents do…what worked for them.¬† “The bouncy ball was a miracle worker for me and getting my son to sleep.” “Rubbing the baby’s back helped calm him down.” “Swaddling stopped him from startling himself.” It was frivolous insight. It was my experience and what had worked for me. I decided instead to turn the conversation back to what seemed more truthful and valuable. “Parenting is hard and scary, and what you are feeling is normal. I wish there were shortcuts, but everyone’s parenting experience is different. You will get through this phase with your child and their sleeping pattern, and then something new will come up and you’ll figure that out as well. If you make your decisions based on what you think is best for you and your family, you are probably doing just¬†fine.” I knew she was hoping I was going to give her¬†some silver bullets around how to get through parenting, but in my time as one, I’ve never seen two parenting experiences that were the same.

I admire my friend’s desire to be the best parent she can as fast as she can be, and look forward to watching her son grow, and her as a parent. As much as she thinks she may be learning from me (and others), I will be learning from her too. It’s reinvigorates me as a parent to see a new parent starting from scratch. I’m reminded of my own anxiety from way back then and how far I’ve come. I am grateful to those who helped share their advice and insights along the way that helped me be a better parent¬†and look forward to continuing to gain knowledge from others who are further along in their journeys than I.

What advice has helped you as a parent? What advice have you shared with others that helped them?

 

 

Just Relax…Don’t Worry About It

Is your child anxious or worry a lot?

When I was a child, I worried…a lot. I worried about pretty much everything — would people like me, what I be picked for the team, were there bad things lurking in the shadows of my room, were Scooby Doo monsters real, would my parents be okay, would I do okay on¬†a test, would I make enough money to live on my own when I grew up, how would I do that, etc. It seemed never ending. Some of my worries made sense, many¬†did not. It didn’t matter. They were real to me.

My oldest son has dealt with similar worrying. He worries about most everything. Will he do well on a test, will a burglar get into the house, are there river monsters (darn you, Animal Planet, for putting that thought in my son’s head), will something bad happen, etc. It seems never ending. Some of his worries are logical, some of them are not. It doesn’t really matter though, because I know they are very real to him.

Thankfully, at my son’s school, he has an amazing Guidance Counselor. She recently gave him a book to help. “What to Do When You Worry Too Much,” by Dawn Huebner, PhD. It talks about how worries are real, and how we can help them grow (instead of help them go away) when we pay too much attention to them. She¬†provides strategies involving acknowledging when a worrisome thought occurs, using your newfound insight to defend against such thoughts, giving¬†limited time (once daily) to address¬†any linger worries that just won’t go away,¬†and readjusting your body through activity or¬†relaxation.¬†The book is working wonders for my son.

When we finished the book, I shared with my son that while the strategies are good for him, there are similar strategies they give adults to deal with the exact same things. Adults may not worry about if the Scooby Doo monster is real, but we do worry about our kids, finances, friendships, health, job security, and the list goes on. It was a good reminder for me, that we all have stress and things to worry about. We also have an opportunity to do something about it. Do we spend time worry about everything (and is that productive) or not?

As I got my son ready for bed, we discussed using one of the breathing exercises recommended in the book. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. My son tried it and relaxed his shoulders. I did it, and did the same thing. I felt better already, and he did too.

How do you help your child when they worry about something?

I will be taking time off next week spending Memorial Day with my family. Enjoy the long weekend!