Getting to Know You

How well do you know your child?

As a parent, I’d like to think I know my kids pretty well, but my assessment was recently put into question. As I’ve shared, my youngest son is on the autism spectrum. After meeting with a specialist, my husband and I were provided with suggested readings to help us better understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There were several books that were recommended, along with a workbook. I ordered all the material in hopes that they would be useful. Some were intended for my son. Some were intended for my husband and I (and my son’s teachers). I wasn’t sure how my son would react when I showed him the material. Would he be upset? Or relieved? Or something else?

When the first couple of books came, I showed them to him. Because my son’s biggest challenge is picking up on social cues, we started with You are a Social Detective! Explaining Social Thinking to Kids by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke. My son and I read through the book. It was very insightful, but I wasn’t sure how much he really was following and retaining. It’s a great reference book that we’ll need to read and re-read to ensure it sinks in. The next book I shared with him was Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder. My son really liked this book. “Wow! Sir Isaac Newton had autism? Albert Einstein?” he said. You could tell he felt that instead of being deficient for being on the spectrum he was in elite company with some of history’s most famous people. Then we came upon Asperger’s…What Does It Mean to Me? A workbook explaining self-awareness and life lessons to the child or youth with high functioning autism or Asperger’s by Catherine Faherty. This book was a godsend. My son and I started reading the workbook together. It walks through different topics explaining how children on the autism spectrum may think, feel or look at situations differently than someone who is not. Then it asks the child to self-assess and answer what is true from them. Talk about getting to know your child. My son started having lightbulb moments–understanding how others without autism may experience something versus how he does–he was gaining clarity around his autism and so were my husband and I. As we read through the workbook together, our son learned more about himself, my husband and I learned more about ASD, and more about our son and how he experiences the world. It was (and is) priceless. Assumptions we had made were dispelled and unknowns were replaced with information about our son. After completing the workbook I believe I understand my son and ASD much better. It was so insightful, we talked to our son and asked if he would be willing to share the workbook with his teachers and staff who work with him so they can better understand him as well. He agreed. “What about grandma and grandpa? Or your aunts and uncles? Can we share it with them?” I asked. “Sure!,” he said. I loved his enthusiasm and willingness to share with those who love and care about him.

We are excited about finding this workbook and the other wonderful material that is helping us better understand our son. There is no greater feeling, in my opinion, then having knowledge to help you navigate life. It’s challenging enough. Having this information feels like blinders have been lifted and we can better take on this new(er) terrain.

How well do you know your child? What material (book, course, etc.) have you come across that has helped you better understand them?

The Haircut — A Mom’s Confession

Do you remember a haircut from your childhood that you were particularly fond or, or embarrassed by?

My oldest son, who is entering middle school this year, is becoming more concerned with his appearance.  Up until recently he preferred I give the stylist instructions, but over the past year he’s decided he wants to have some input, and I supported him. I can remember having some haircuts I hated as a teen — a prem on already wavy hair (I looked like a poodle), having my hair cut so short it made my face look very round (not a look any teen wants), or putting ‘Sun-In’ in my hair (that was no one’s fault but mine) — I had two-toned hair for months — ugh! — and wished I’d been encouraged to give more input before and during the haircut (I would have begged to have my hair colored back to it’s natural color during my Sun-In phase once I stopped using it if I could have).

I was impressed by the input my son gave. “I want the hair cut short not just around my ears, but all the way around in the back,” he said. “Oh, and I don’t want any sideburns, I don’t like them.” I didn’t even realize he knew what sideburns were, and his were slight, but he was clear. He didn’t want any. The hairdresser obliged and he got a great cut. He was very pleased. Months passed, and being into sports like he is, he has a sense for how athletes use their hair to make a statement, and decided that he too, needed a ‘sportier’ haircut. He decided instead of going to the same place we’ve gone to since he was a baby, he was ready for the barber shop. My husband took him and showed him the ropes. My son got more familiar with clipper numbers and enjoyed bonding with his dad. He, once again, gave the barber instructions on how he wanted his haircut and the barber obliged. My son was happy. I, on the other hand, thought my son’s hair looked ‘okay’ but could be better, but held my tongue.

This is one of those parent dilemmas: when do you let your child look a certain way  whether it’s hair, clothes, make-up, and when do you say something? I grew up hearing most mornings “are you going to wear that?”, which I hated, and decided long ago that I did not want to repeat this with my son, but I did just that. A few weeks after my son got his hair cut (and I held my tongue ever so briefly) I asked him if he would be willing to see another stylist that mom knew (this is a woman I’ve seen for years and I’ve seen her do amazing cuts on men and women and knew she could give my son a great cut). “No, I’m good,” my son said. I didn’t give up so easy. “I like your cut, but know someone who can give you a really great sports cut — like Rinaldo,” I had his attention. “Well, maybe,” he replied. I decided not to push it…but that only lasted a few days. “You know you’re hair is going to be bothering you soon (it always does when it starts to get even a little long), just let me make this appointment and if you don’t like the cut I’ll never suggest going there again.” That seemed to do it. “Okay,” he said. I made the appointment. I prepped him on what would happen — he would be going  to an adult salon (not a barber shop). The stylist would walk him through the cut. He could ask any questions that he wanted, and he could tell her what he did and didn’t want. The haircut began. My stylist walked him through a haircut and, with his input, he went with a sporty-fade. She educated him on the different terminology and tools and helped him feel more comfortable about his hair. She talked him through styling techniques and products to use to help him ‘rock his haircut’ whenever he wanted to. The whole time I was a nervous wreck. I had great trust in my hairdresser, but was questioning the choice I was making as a parent. I had brought him here. This was my idea. What if he hated the cut and the experience? He would lose trust in me if he felt he has been mislead. Had I made a mistake?

I was fortunate in that the cut turned out great. He was ecstatic. He got out of the chair and said, “Mom, I just got the perfect haircut. I love it.” My son doesn’t say such things easily. I have rarely seen him this happy. I’ve experienced a great haircut high so I knew what my son was feeling. He really liked the way he looked, and believe him understanding more about the mechanics of a haircut, and being educated on the terminology and products really helped.

I learned another lesson, or to put it more accurately, was reminded of something I already knew — that I need to let my son decide what he wants to look like and be okay with it. The stress I was feeling during the cut was not fun. Of course, I want my son to feel good about his appearance, but part of growing up is experimenting with your look. You have to have a few ‘what was I thinking’ or ‘I can’t believe I ever thought that looked good’ moments to appreciate how far you’ve come. It won’t be easy, but I need to let him be him.

What haircuts do you remember from your childhood? Have you ever intervened to ‘improve’ your child’s appearance? If so, how did you feel afterwards?

Hanging Out

My oldest son used to go on play dates, but not anymore.

At his school’s Field Day, I was introduced to one of his classmate’s mom when her son and mine ran up to us. “Mom, mom, can K come over?” my son asked. I looked at K’s mom. “Would you all be up for a play date?” My son looked horror struck. He quickly said, “Mom, we don’t call them play dates anymore, you call it hanging out or chilling,” (while throwing in some hand gestures to ensure I understood he was ‘cool’). 🙂  I could tell I had unintentionally embarrassed my son by using the wrong lingo, so I quickly corrected myself. “Can K come over to hang out this weekend?” We set a time up when K could come over.

When my son and I were alone in the car later he said, “Mom, play dates are what little kids do. I’m not a little kid anymore.” He’s right, he’s not. I catch myself still using ‘baby/little kid’ talk too often. I recently asked, “Does anyone need to go potty before we leave?” My boys both responded, “Mom (in a long drawn out way that indicated I should know better), it’s called the bathroom, and yes we’ve both used it!” I’ve realized two things: 1) my boys are indeed growing up, and 2) I’ve got to revisit my vocabulary — because I don’t want to embarrass them (I know I hated being embarrassed even unintentionally by my parents growing up), and using older language allows me to acknowledge that they are indeed getting older.

Has anyone else caught themselves doing this? If so, how are you catching yourself and modifying your language?

5th Grade Graduation

How much fanfare surrounded your 5th grade graduation?

There was none for mine, and I don’t mean a little, I mean there was none, zero, nada. The general consensus was everyone should be graduating 5th grade or there was a bigger problem that needed to be addressed.  Clearly times have changed, and now there is a desire to more frequently celebrate these milestones. I just didn’t know there would be so many activities. A graduation ceremony seemed a little over the top to me, but then I started getting the notices: Don’t Forget the 5th Grade breakfast, Don’t Forget the 5th Grade Field Trip, Send Pictures for the Baby Picture Wall, Who Can Help with the Legacy Project, etc. Wow, times have changed.

It has been fun digging up old pictures (though challenging after a long days work) and reminiscing around just how far we’ve come. It was fun going to the breakfast and catching up with other parents and recalling first days at school, and how our children, who were once very attached to us are now wanting their space. My son wanted me at the breakfast, but didn’t want to interact with me per se at the breakfast. 🙂 Not to worry, I remember being his age. I was pulling away from my parents as well trying to find myself, just as he is finding his. It is hard to believe that he’ll be moving up to middle school. I’ve relished the protective cocoon of elementary school and dreaded the day he’d move into a less protected space. He feels and I feel it. It’s hard not to acknowledge that time is passing and things are changing. And while I initially felt the school might be over-doing it with all the 5th Grade graduation activities, I’m appreciating it more and more. As the school year nears it’s end, I’m clinging to every day desperately wanting to slow time. My son’s growing up. Time will keep moving. I’m going to cherish every minute.

How are you celebrating your child’s milestones?

I will be off for the holiday weekend and back in July. Happy 4th!

 

The Halloween Miracle

How old is too old to trick-o-treat?

My boys are still in elementary school. My oldest is in the 5th grade and is quickly becoming a young man. At least he thinks he is. He is at that age where you want to start to lean towards grown-up behavior (being more conscientious of your appearance and how you are perceived by others) and losing his childhood innocence.

I thought he would trick-o-treat throughout elementary school. Imagine my surprise when I asked him in early October what he wanted to be for Halloween and his response was, “Oh, I’m not going trick-o-treating this year. I think I’m getting to old for it.” Instead of accepting what he said, I immediately tried to get him to change his mind. “Are you sure? There aren’t many more years you’ll want to go trick-o-treating.” “You love trick-o-treating why wouldn’t you want to do it this year?” “Aren’t your friends and classmates dressing up?” And finally, “I’ll level with you, there are only a few precious years where Mom and Dad get to do kid things with you, trick-o-treating is one of them, let us take you trick-o-treating, you don’t even have to dress up.” Oh, it was pathetic. I was a bit disappointed in myself for how close I had gotten to almost begging my son to let us experience this with him one more year. If he doesn’t want to do it, I need to respect that and not try to manipulate him into doing it one more time. I decided to back off–kind of.

A week went by. “Have you changed your mind by chance about trick-o-treating this year?” I asked. “Nope, not going to do it,” he replied. Drats I thought.

And another. “Are you sure you don’t want a costume?” I tried again. “No. I already told you. I’m not going trick-o-treating” he reminded me. Okay, okay, I just need to accept this whether I like it or not I concluded. I didn’t bring it up again.

Then it happened. After several days following my last attempt, my son came home. “How was your day?” I asked. “It was okay,” he shared then continued, “Mom, remember how I said I wasn’t going to dress up for Halloween? Well, I changed my mind. I think I want to be an Army soldier.” It was hard for me to hide my joy (not to mention my relief — I would get one more year of this tradition. Yes!). “Of course!” I told him. He smiled. And while it would be easy to say I got what I wanted, I think we both did. He gets to pretend to be a soldier (something he’s currently interested in) and I get my little (okay, not so little) boy for my one year.

This was a miracle, a Halloween miracle, and I am ever so grateful for it.

How do you handle your child outgrowing a treasured tradition?

 

To Give and to Receive

What part of the holidays brings you the most cheer?  Giving gifts, receiving them, or something else?

I loved receiving gifts when I was a child. I was captivated by the magic of Santa and couldn’t wait to see what I would receive. Receiving gifts was an acknowledgement that Santa thought enough of me to bring me something he thought I would like. As I grew older and the magic of Santa faded, I found holiday cheer in giving. Watching others expressions of surprise (at the unexpected gift or the thought put into it) brought me great joy. Putting a smile on someone else’s face made me happy.

As I watch my children this holiday season, I see how hopeful they are that when Christmas morning arrives they will have gifts under the tree. For my older one, the magic is starting to fade. He’s starting to ask questions and we realize this is likely his last year of believing. It’s a bittersweet moment. Joy in watching him grow into a young man, but bitter in that the innocence that goes with childhood is starting to slowly slip away. I wonder what will bring him joy going forward. Will he continue to enjoy receiving, or giving (whether it’s physical gifts, or acts of kindness), or something else?

I can’t wait to find out.

R.I.P. Halloween Costume

Do you have a favorite childhood Halloween costume you wore? Perhaps your costume gave you super powers, made you feel like royalty or turned you into a scary creature. Nostalgia surfaces when I think of Halloweens past.

I’m starting to get the same nostalgic feeling for my children’s Halloween past. They are reaching the ages where they will only trick-o-treat for a few more years and wear costumes. I’ve held on to many of their costumes from the past. Not wanting to just give them away, they’ve felt too special to just give away.

I recently came across a box that had an astronaut costume my son wore when he was two or three years old. It was adorable and I can remember him attacking a cupcake with green frosting while in the suit. We have some great pictures of our frosting covered astronaut in our scrapbook and some wonderful memories in our heads. I have a young nephew and was hoping to maybe pass the costume on to him, but he already has another costume. I saw a friend’s son that is close to my nephew’s age and offered up the astronaut outfit without a second thought. I want this to go to someone who will love and cherish it as I do. Funny thing is, as soon as my offer was accepted, a feeling of sadness washed over me. The act of giving away the costume confirm my boys are growing up, and they won’t be little boys for much longer.

I accept that I can’t stop time. I remind myself that I just need to appreciate the moment…take lots of pictures and enjoy the present Halloween.

My boys are growing. The costumes will eventually be going. When we bury someone we often say Rest In Peace. I hope my kids’ costumes bring much joy in their next life, with whomever gets to wear them. I don’t want the costumes to Rest In Peace in a box in my closet, but want them Worn and Enjoyed in the Present…W.E.P. Halloween costumes. W.E.P.

How Rude!

It’s no fun encountering someone who is rude, right? It can really throw off your day, and put you in a bad mood. No fun.

My husband and I have recently been experiencing rudeness at the hands of our oldest child. We’ve been working on manners for quite some time, and while there has been good progress there is still room for improvement. Our oldest is eight, and in a place where he is working through growing independence and experiencing emotions more intensely. It makes for a challenging environment.

After pointing out the rude behavior we were seeing to our son, and doling out consequences that did not appear to be deterring his behavior, my husband and I decided we had to come up with a new strategy. My husband suggested that our son might still not grasp what being rude really meant and that we should talk with him to make it clear. We sat down with our son to have the discussion. It started off with our son telling and showing us how much he didn’t want to have the conversation (e.g. he got upset, outwardly showed his disdain with a grunt, scrunched up face and balled up fists, and then tried to walk away). We sat our son down and began.

We talked to him about his behavior and how it was unacceptable, and asked if he understood what being rude meant, and what actions constituted being rude. Listening to his answers really helped. “Being rude is when you’re not nice to someone?” he said guessing. “It’s more than just not being nice,” my husband shared. We began a dialogue that lasted more than 20 minutes. We talked about what being rude meant (not acknowledging others when they are speaking to you, and exhibiting behaviors that imply your needs are more important than the other person’s). We asked him again to give his definition. He struggled to come up with an explanation that was simple and clear for him, so my husband and I invoked a role-playing session to show how he could better identify rudeness. Since we often associate respect as being the opposite of rude, we thought we should help clarify some nuances there as well. We shared that being respectful doesn’t mean you have to agree with someone or do what they ask you to do, it’s how you handle yourself in these situations.

He seemed to be grasping what we were talking about, and started to get down on himself for not recognizing how his behavior had come across and impacted others.  We stopped him before he got too far along in that line of thinking, and reminded him that our job is to teach him, and what he is going through is part of growing up. We told him that he was a really neat kid, and that it was important for us to talk to him about his behavior, because when he is rude, it takes away from how neat he is. We continued that if he wasn’t aware that he was being rude, and nothing changed, there might be people who miss out on understanding how much he has to offer, and that would have been a shame. He really seemed to understand what we were saying now.

My husband and I moved on from talking about being rude, and asked him how his day had gone. Our son started to tell us when my husband interrupted him to ask him for more details. My son called his father out on what he did, “Dad, you’re being rude! You just interrupted me.” My husband and I looked at each other with a mutual understanding — we got through to our son…he does understand what being rude means, yes! It felt like we’d really gotten through to him and helped our son learned. It felt great. I didn’t know rudeness could lead to such a place.

How do you help your child work through difficult behavior? When did you know you were getting through to your child?

Good as Gold

The Sochi Olympics are coming to an end, and I am going to miss it. The athleticism, passion and commitment by the athletes is incredible. I always enjoy seeing an athlete experience their Olympic moment, particularly when it goes in their favor. Winning a gold must be a pretty spectacular feeling.

In a way, I felt like a I had my own Olympic moment this week. I experienced it during an unexpected teaching moment with my children. One of my son’s remarked that another boy in his class likes Hello Kitty. What made me recognize this as a teaching moment was when he added, “Isn’t that funny?” I asked him what was so funny about it. My other son joined in the conversation. “Hello Kitty is for girls, right?” he said. “Well,” I responded, “I can see why you may think Hello Kitty is for girls, but anyone can like Hello Kitty.” I could see the wheels turning in their head thinking this over. I added, “You might think of blue being a boys color, but girls can like blue too. And you might think of girls liking princesses and ponies,” I paused before adding for emphasis, “…and is Mom interested in princesses and ponies?” “No!” they both exclaimed with some delight. To drive the point further home I asked, “And isn’t football supposed to be for boys? Well, what is Mom’s favorite sport to watch?” “College football,” they sang. There were giggles all around and I felt like I got through to them.

As the giggles subsided, I circled back to my main point. “We all are different and will like different things, that’s what makes us interesting. It would be boring if it were all the same.” My sons latched onto this statement and shared their agreement. “If we were all the same we’d be robots,” my oldest said.  “Boring!” my other son and I said in unison.

I left the conversation feeling like I’d encountered opened my boys eyes to appreciate the joys of our differences. It was as good feeling, about as good as it gets. Was it as good as gold? It was maybe even better.

How do you help your child appreciate differences in others? What teaching moment has felt more like your Olympic moment?

The Sex Talk

Being a parent has it’s challenges. One my husband and I have been trying to prepare ourselves for years for is “the sex talk.” This came front and center recently when my boys and I were visiting the zoo. We were at the tortoise exhibit when when my youngest son and I saw some movement. I made an innocent comment to my son when one tortoise nudged the other near her rear legs. “He’s saying, ‘hey, get a move on.'” I thought it was funny, and my son also recognized the silliness of my words. I walked away for a minute to check on my other son who was across the aisle looking at a snake enclosure. When I came back to my youngest son, he was laughing in full hysterics…”Look Mom, the tortoise is trying to climb over the other one.” Ah oh, I thought. Sounds like some mating might be taking place. Sure enough I looked into the dwelling and my suspicions were confirmed. What made it worse was the family that was standing next to my son. The husband who had a baby strapped onto his front was giggling nervously and saying, “um, (insert nervous giggle), I, um, don’t think he’s trying to climb over (insert another nervous giggle).” The wife couldn’t take her eyes off what the turtles were doing. My anxiety went from zero to very high very quickly. My mind started to race. Should I just tell my son the truth, that the tortoises are mating? What questions will that bring up? Is having this discussion appropriate to do in public? Thankfully my oldest son, who had no idea what was going on, rescued me by instructing his brother and I to come over and check out what he was looking at. While I continued to ask myself these questions, and fearing I might be missing a teaching moment, I kept quiet. Give yourself time to think about how to respond on this one, I told myself. My younger son never made another reference to what he’d seen.

This experience prompted my husband and I to revisit how we are educating our children on their bodies and sex. Our boys are six and eight and curiosity about their bodies is happening. While we’d like to think that we are comfortable having these discussions, the truth is they can make us a bit uncomfortable. How much do you share? When?

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Laura Berman on an Oprah episode several years ago, when she helped parents and their children understand their body’s and the realities of sex. It went beyond the birds and the bees discussion. The two episodes I saw taught kids about how their body works, and talked to teens honestly about sex: covering the mechanics while important, is only the beginning, the heart of the discussion was to help teens understand the reality (emotional and relational) and the potential consequences (positive and negative). Both episodes made me cry. Not because I was disturbed at what was discussed, but because I wished so badly that my parents had had this same discussion with me. My parent’s generation for the most part, didn’t talk to their children in this level of detail, and my peers and I were left to figure most of “it” out on our own. I grateful that I managed to navigate it so well on my own, though sometimes it felt like luck played a bigger role in that than my personal knowledge.

I’m determined to help educate my kids, like I wish I was, on their bodies and sex, even though it won’t be easy. I picked up Dr. Laura Berman’s book “Talking to Your Kids about Sex” and “The Boys Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You” by Kelli Dunham. Dr. Laura Berman’s book is to help my husband and I. The Boys Body Book is to provide my boys with a reference they can read through as needed.

What resources have helped you? How have you navigated the sex talk with your children? How did you work through any discomfort (your own, your partner’s, or your child’s)?