Difficult Conversations

Talking honestly about what happened with George Floyd and the aftermath can be difficult, regardless if the conversation is with your child, friends, or family.

I feel fortunate to have a diverse set of friends who have been willing to engage in these conversations that have been uncomfortable but needed. Being honest, owning our truths, and experiences reminds me that with knowledge comes power, and together we can make our community and country better.

In addition to my friends near me, the pandemic has allowed me to talk to my best friends who live far away each week. It has been a blessing to be able to connect with them more often. Typically when we talk I go where I can have privacy and speak freely — after all our talks include discussions about our kids, and spouses. 😊 As the issue of systemic racism, and the call for reform and an end to injustice and a need to address equality has gained traction the topic of discussion came up with my friends. I saw an opportunity to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with them out in the open (having close friendships doesn’t mean you all think alike — true friendship allows for truths to be spoken, and vulnerability, and love for each other regardless), instead of going into a room and closing the door for privacy, I FaceTime’d with my friends without earbuds in my living room. My youngest son was on our computer in the kitchen. I felt like even if my son wasn’t fully listening to the conversation I needed to do it this way — out in the open not in private. I needed to show him there is value, bravery and strength when you speak from your heart, especially on topics like this. The fact that my friends are willing to listen, respect what i have to say, and still love me makes for wonderful and sustainable friendships. I treasure them.

Change will only happen if we are willing to talk (even when it might be uncomfortable), and really listen to each other.

How are you having these conversations? How are you modeling for or teaching your child how to have them?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

All I Want For Christmas is…

What does your child want for Christmas this year?

My kids are older now, so gift giving is somewhat easier – getting gift cards, money, athletic gear, YouTuber merch (yes, I’m using teenage slang now. 🙂 ), or music — and they are happy campers. For me, sure there are things that I’d like, but nothing that I need. I feel unbelievably fortunate.

At home, one evening near dinner time, my younger son was sharing some of his favorite sayings at school. He threw them out rapidly and each one made you stop and think. I was impressed, but the one that stopped me in my tracks was, “there’s no pause button in life.” I said, “Did you hear that from someone or did you come up with that yourself?” He replied, “No, mom, I came up with that myself.” I think I saw an eye-roll before he went about sharing other favorite phrases he likes to use at school. Now, I know my son is not the first person to come up with or use this phrase, but the fact that it resonated with him, and he understood what it meant, blew me away.

I ask my family to join me to see the luminaries lining a nearby lake every December. It’s a tradition I’ve been trying to create for many years (even blogging about it previously). This year, it was raining the night of the luminaries. The rain was supposed to move out, but hung around. I told my kids it was time to go and they both protested in a way that I knew that while I could force them to do it, none of us would enjoy ourselves. So, my husband and I went by ourselves and walked the lake in the rain. We commented on the pros — lesser crowds and no kids protesting; the cons — it was raining pretty hard, and our kids weren’t with us. We had dinner following and talked about how it will only be a few more years before our oldest is out on his own, and only so many more times to walk the lake together as a family. It reminded me of what my younger son had said — that there is no pause button in life. Oh, how I wish there was. The hard times, I might want to fast forward through, of course, but there are those times when you want to slow things down, maybe even backup and do them over, but you can’t. There is indeed no pause (reverse, or fast forward) button in life.

All I want for Christmas this year is for my family to be together, and enjoy our time together. The kids promised they’d walk the lake with me next year (we’ll see if that actually happens or not), and that’s enough for me for now. 🙂

What do you want for Christmas?

I will be off for the next few weeks spending time with family, returning in January. Happy Holidays!

 

So Thankful

What are you most thankful for this year?

There is much to be thankful for me — my family’s health, having shelter and food, support and love from family and friends, and I can’t forget our cat who brings us so much joy.

Something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated was my sons willingness to talk openly to me. My oldest seemed quieter than usual and less interested in wanting to talk to me. When I’d try to engage him he’d grunt, roll his eyes, or get defensive, “I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” I wasn’t alone in noticing how my son was acting. When this behavior carried over into the following week I decided I was going to have to do something drastic to get him to talk to me so I could better understand what was going on. I did the only thing I knew to do — I asked him to go for a walk.

“Fine,” he said in a tone indicating going on a walk with his mom was the last thing he wanted to do. I think he resolved himself to the idea that I wasn’t just going to leave him alone. We walked for a few blocks and I asked, “What’s going on with you? You seem almost angry at me. If there’s something we need to talk about, let’s talk about it.” He seemed surprised by my question. “I’m not angry at you. My mood has nothing to do with you.” “What does it have to do with because you’ve been acting differently lately and I can’t help you if I don’t know,” I asked. He made a sound of frustration and finally said, “Everything sucks.” Okay, we’re getting somewhere now, I thought. “What sucks exactly,” I asked. “School for one.” “Is it classes, or your teachers or your friends…” my question trailed off. “My teachers are great, classes are fine. It’s all the stupid kids who go to that school. They’re all dumb and judgmental, and it makes me mad because most of the people don’t know anything about me.” I could tell from the way he was talking we’d gotten to the heart of the matter — he was struggling with how you show up to others, what value you bring, how others see you. How bad it can feel when you’re ignored, or feel like you’re being judged. We talked about friendship and how it’s like growing a plant — you have to care for it and feed it, or over time it won’t survive. We arrived back at our house and my son seemed more at ease. His dark mood seemed to subside. I was grateful he agreed to go on the walk. I’ve been where he’s been — we probably all have as teenagers — trying to figure who we are and where we fit in. I’m grateful he was willing to listen and take in what I had to offer, and I’m thankful he no longer felt that he had to try to navigate this on his own.

What are you thankful for this holiday?

I’ll be taking time off to spend time with family and will be back in December.

That’s What Friends Are For

What makes a good friend?

This question has gotten a lot more attention from me as I’ve navigated the struggles my son on the autism spectrum has with making friends. What does make a good friend? Someone who is kind in the moment? Someone who wants to engage with you in a kind and supportive way? There are varying levels of friendship. I think of the friends who have come in and out of my life. I was reminded what a good friend looks like when a woman I have known for years and who I have shared just about everything with asked me timidly, “When was your son diagnosed?” She asked it in a whispered voice, and did a quick glance to ensure no one around had heard the question. While I was reluctant to talk about my son being on the spectrum when I first found out, I have come a long way — I’m happy to talk about it openly, but I remember that feeling of being unsure and uncomfortable, I was picking up on the way she was asking that she was uncomfortable. I responded, “When he was around five,” I paused and lowered my voice, “What’s going on?” She leaned in and said, “I haven’t really talked about this, but my son has spoken a word yet, and he’s two and a half, and we’re not sure why.” I could almost feel her concern. As a parent, when your child seems to have any affliction — whether it is a disease that is tough to treat, or a condition that makes them different than others — it can feel like you are at a crossroads — the childhood you imagined you and your child having will likely not be how you envisioned it to be, and that can be scary. We decided to find a time we could talk more openly. I wanted her to feel comfortable sharing and asking whatever questions she had.

Prior to us meeting, I thought about how I could best show up for her for this conversation. The truth is we don’t know if her son is on the spectrum, he hasn’t been tested and officially diagnosed, but he does exhibit behaviors similar to my son. I could easily jump to conclusions and give her all the information I’ve gained since my son’s diagnosis, but figured that really wasn’t what she needed. She needed to know that everything was going to be okay. Yes, her parental journey would be altered, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t be joyous, it was just going to be different. She asked me to share my story. I shared and then asked her what she was most concerned about. She was very concerned they hadn’t figured out what was behind her son not talking despite seeing doctors and specialists and enlisting the help of therapists and others. The next step was doing a battery of tests to get her son properly diagnosed. “I’m concerned because I need to figure this out before he turns three,” she shared. “What is special about him turning three?” I asked, thinking about how we hadn’t really enlisted help for our son until five. “That’s when it says you have the best chance of early intervention, but we don’t know what he has.” She admitted to spending too much time on the internet and going into various rabbit holes of information that all seemed to lead to a future life of doom and gloom for her son and her family. As she spoke, I was reminded of my intention coming into this meeting, what would a good friend say? I borrowed a phrase we use with our older son, who is always jumping ahead in his life and concerned about his future. I was seeing the same thing in my friend.

“How long have you been a parent?” I asked. “Well, two years” she said, clearly taken aback by the question. “And how are you supposed to know everything, and have it all figured out in two years?” I said. “Well, I guess, you’re right, there’s no way you can figure it all out in two years.” I finished, “Think of your journey like a video game, each year of your child’s life is a level. Right now, you’re on level 2, stay there, don’t try to be on level 5 or 12 or 35. You’re on 2, you’re going to continue to learn and get smarter. You are going to figure this out.” She smiled. Her shoulders relaxed. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks.” I did end up giving her a few resources that she could reach out to who could give her some sound advice — these resources had been a Godsend to me. As I left our meeting, I thought, I wish I had had a friend or support like this when my son was first diagnosed. There was support available, but I was just too scared to reach out, and I didn’t have any friends talking. I was glad my friend was brave enough to ask. I was glad I could be that support and encouragement. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Are you struggling with raising your child? What does a good friend do to help support you as a parent?

Thank You for Being a Friend

Who is your child’s best friend?

My younger son struggles with friendship. He is great at meeting people where they are as they are, but is challenged making more meaningful connections.

I shared in a previous post about a campfire talk my son and I had about death, and thought we were simply reflecting on some painful experiences of two classmates he had lost (one to illness, one to an accident) and I was helping him deal with, and process, those loses. I didn’t realize, at that time, I was also preparing him for what lie ahead, as my son lost another classmate and friend recently. It was very unexpected and upsetting.

My son’s friend was wheelchair bound and non-verbal, but boy could this child communicate through his facial expressions — whether it was showing joy through a big toothy smile or laugh, or a look of the eye that communicated more than words could say. He made an impact on my son and his classmates. My son invited this friend to his birthday party, and his classmate invited him to his — it was a week away from the party when we got the news that his friend had passed.

My son dealt with it very hard. Understandably so. There was a celebration of life for his friend. We attended with over a hundred others including classmates, teachers, friends, and family. It was a beautiful service with laughter and tears. At the end of the service they asked if anyone wanted to come up to say a few words. My son looked at me and said, “I’m going up. I need to say something.” In this crowd of people my son confidently walked up, took the microphone and said, “He was my best friend. My best friend. I’m going to miss him.” He trailed off and the microphone was handed to another peer.

In the typical sense of the word, this classmate and my son were not “best” friends. Yes, they invited each other to each other’s party, but they didn’t get together after school or even spend much time together on the playground. I asked my son what he meant by best friend. “Well, mom, he accepted as I am.” And I thought that’s what best friends do accept you as you are where you are. And that is what this boy did for my son and vice versa. They each have their own challenges in connecting (whether it was being non-verbal, or being on the autism spectrum), but they could see and appreciate each other better than most.

As we were leaving the service, I couldn’t help but think of this child who was no longer with us and thought thank you for being a friend not only to my son, but many. How blessed we are to have a friend who accepts as where we are as we are.

Who is your child’s best friend?

You’re a Good Friend

How many good friends do you have?

My youngest son and I continue to read our new favorite book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cooke O’Toole. What I love about this book is how much of this information benefits people on the spectrum and those of us who aren’t.

My son and I are now in the part of the book that is about friendship — what makes a good friend and how to go about cultivating a friendship. As I read the chapter I was struck by how much I would have benefitted from someone telling me this information when I was my son’s age about what makes a good friend. When I was young, I didn’t think about friendships in layers per se, but did understand I had different friends — some were kind, some were kind when they felt like it, some could be trusted, others couldn’t, etc. In the book, it spells out characteristics a good friend has. Some of the basics: Smiles when they see you, likes some of the same things you do, shares some of the same opinions, invites you to hang out. And others that are more advanced and truly define a good friend: stands up for you (even if you’re not there), stops you if you put yourself down, listens, sees talents in you that you hadn’t noticed, likes you for exactly who you are. There are many more characteristics she names, but you get the picture, she is shining a light on what a true and worthwhile friend is.

After reading this I reflected on my own childhood friends. I had some friends that had some of these characteristics, but don’t think I had any ‘true’ friends until I was college-age. As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought out, cared for and worked to develop healthy and meaningful friendships vs. giving equal care and time across all friends regardless to what they bring to the relationship. I wondered how I might have invested my time differently with people earlier in life if I had had this information. I thought what the author said was so valuable I grabbed my older son and said, “I need to read this to you.” He has friends much like I did in middle school — some are nice, some are nice when they feel like, some can be trusted, and others cannot. After reading with both my boys I felt like I had given them a path to know how to spot a good friend and better spend their time with people who will value them and their friendship and reciprocate in kind.

Friendship can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially if you don’t understand what a good friend ‘looks’ like. I’m grateful I’ve had an opportunity to enlighten my kids (and remind myself) about what a good friend truly is.

How are you teaching your child to spot (and make) a good friend?

First Kiss

Do you remember your first kiss?

My youngest has a ‘girlfriend’ that he’s known since kindergarten. Now, you wouldn’t know they are boyfriend and girlfriend because they barely interact with each other when in close proximity. But there are these moments when they are inseparable. It doesn’t take much, when one of them initiates doing something with the other.

There was an “engagement” last summer when, during a day at summer camp, they decided they wanted to plan out their life and make it official. Our families had a picnic to celebrate their plans. We have some great pictures of them. While their pretend ceremony was very innocent, and they posed for pictures as though they were kissing, they actually did not. My youngest was fine with this, and thought all of it was good fun.

His girlfriend moved to another school this year, so their interaction has been even less with the exception of the occasional playdate. When she last came over to play, they did what the normally do, they sat in the same room, but proceeded to read books and not actually play together. As their playdate was ending, his friend suddenly decided they needed to play a quick board game (is that even possible?) and while her mom and I allowed them to play for a few minutes, we were working to wrap it up so everyone could go home. While her mother and I were talking, the kids decided to resume their almost ceremonially kiss pose they had at the picnic. I have no idea what prompted this, as it happened so quickly. After seeing what they were up to, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but it didn’t take long to figure it out. My son went in for the kiss this time and was smiling from ear-to-ear following. It was very sweet. I was happy for him that his first kiss was with a girl he really liked. I was happy that he didn’t have to go through the fretting I did in wondering when the first kiss would happen and who would it be with. It also felt like I just passed a milestone with my son way earlier than I’d anticipated. Of course, every milestone that occurs reminds me how quickly my sons are growing up. And while things can move fast in life, I’m don’t want it to go by at such a rapid pace.  I realize this is a bit out of my control, but boy, would I love to slow down time sometimes.

How do you experience milestones with your child?

 

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?

Back to School Jitters — Parent Edition

When your child started back to school did you feel nervous?

Feeling nervous as a parent was a surprise to me, yet I’ve experienced it every new school year. When my oldest son started kindergarten I was nervous but thought it was natural because he was moving from pre-school to elementary, he’d be with new people, have more structure and more expectations put upon him. I worried if he’d fit in and make friends, and be safe, and like his teacher…you get the picture. I was caught off guard when I was nervous when he entered first grade the following year. He knew the school and most of his classmates. He did have a new teacher, but the school is small and most of the kids (and parents) know the faculty. The pattern has repeated over the years. Each new school year creates a bit of anxiety and nerves for me, the parent, on the first day. What is going on? Why am I still nervous? Parents aren’t supposed to get nervous, right? I thought. Clearly I was wrong.

Upon reflection, I realized there were several reasons why a parent may be nervous:

  • You care about your child and worry about them making (or keeping) friends and fitting in
  • You worry about them having a positive learning environment
  • You care about how your child does in school, and how you as the parent, are helping your child be successful–trying to figure out how to accomplish this (helping with homework, etc.) and keeping up with all your other responsibilities would make anyone nervous (e.g. how am I going to do this (again)?)
  • You care about your own friendships–do you mesh with your child’s classmates parents? It seems so trivial, but feeling like you are part of a school community not only forces your child to make friends, but forces the parents to also. It takes effort and precious time. Will other parents like me? How will I fit in?
  • You relive your own childhood through your child(ren) in many ways. A new school year, at least for me, takes me back to the fear I used to have when I was growing up–would people like me, was my teacher going to be nice, did anyone notice the effort I put into my new outfit? 🙂

We grow up with our kids. We learn patience and better appreciate what matters in life. I dropped my sons off at school, and marveled at how well they handled it, how well I handled it. The nerves slipped away quickly, but I know they’ll be back next year.

How do you experience the new school year with your child? If you have any tips for how to calm your child’s nerve, please share.