Cooling Off

How do you keep cool on hot summer days? Do you have memories of swimming, using a Slip n’ Slide or running through the sprinkler?

I was on a business trip after a long day and was looking forward to changing clothes and going for a walk. It had been a long day, it was hot, I’d been in a small, hot car for too long and was ready to de-stress. It was late enough that the intensity of the day’s heat was gone and it was starting, ever so slightly, to cool down. I was on the 5th floor of a six-floor hotel. When I got into the elevator I joined a Dad with his two sons, about the same age as my own kids. As kids will do, they were talking about how excited they were for the pool, and how annoyed they were that my arrival (really the elevator having to stop) really bummed them out–they had a pool to get to. “How come the pool isn’t on the roof?” one of the boys asked. We all kind of looked at each other like we were thinking the same thing….that’s actually a pretty good idea, kid. Before you knew it, we were headed down, but were stopped again on the 2nd floor. This time, a young woman joined us with her cellphone next to her ear. As soon as the doors closed, one of the boys looked at his father and said, “How come people on the second floor don’t take the stairs?” I couldn’t help but smile. My boys would totally have said the same thing. The woman took it in stride, took the phone away from her ear and said, “Well, my goodness, I’m so sorry.” And the dad attempted to apologize for this son’s remark. The doors opened again, and the kids bounded out towards the pool, leaving us, their comments and their cares behind.

I couldn’t stop smiling. I no longer felt the heat of the day, or the stress that I had felt only a few floors earlier. I relished in the simplicity of kids, their honesty and forwardness. I thought about my own kids, and how similar they were to these boys. They reminded me that sometimes you can get annoyed or delayed (much like the boys were in the elevator), but getting to where you want to go can help you leave your cares behind. I decided I would follow suit, and leave behind my cares once I stepped out of the hotel, it made for a much more pleasant walk–I was calm, and I was cool.

When has your child’s honesty gotten you to rethink a hot situation?

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

We are reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a humorous tale of how a traditional church pageant gets overtaken by an untraditional cast of characters–the Herdman family. We got the book so our oldest son could continue practicing his reading skills. The book is just about right for his age as it challenges him from a reading prospective (wouldn’t names like Genesis and Jerusalem challenge most eight year olds?), and from a content prospective–the Herdman’s raise some very good questions about the Christmas story from a child’s naivety about this old story but with a great understanding of the present world as illustrated in one of Imogene’s passages after finding out that the baby Jesus was swaddled and laid in a manger: “You mean they tied him up and put him in a feedbox. Where was the Child Welfare?”

The Herdman children’s questions about the Christmas story have been a good opportunity for my sons and I to talk about the story, what is happening and what it means. Up to this point, my sons have participated in our church’s Christmas Pageant without really understanding the story. They know there are angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Dressing up in the costumes is fun. But their experience in the pageant has been one of participation, not appreciation.

This year when a teacher was asking the kids who might want to play Mary in the Christmas Pageant the room was silent for a moment, than my youngest son who recently turned six stated loudly, “I’ll be Mary.” To which the teacher replied, “You want to be Mary?” and looked at me with a quizzical face. I asked my son, “You want to be Mary?” to which he replied, “Yes. I want to be Mary.” I looked back at the teacher and gave her my permission. I’m not sure how comfortable everyone was with my son’s decision (mainly the adults in the room, the children seemed to care less), but I felt if my son wanted to play Mary, by gosh, I was going to let him.

I don’t know what the Christmas Pageant holds for us this year, but it looks like it might be an untraditional one. When roles are changed and things are done out of the ordinary or expected, our own beliefs for how things are, or should be done can be challenged. It’s like the story The Best Christmas Pageant Ever–will the Christmas story be ruined by the Herdman’s being in the play? No. Their participation ended up making it the best pageant ever. Similarly, will our church’s play be ruined if my son plays Mary? No. It will make the play more memorable, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.

How do you encourage or support your child to do something out of the ordinary?

What a Turkey

Thanksgiving reminds me of holidays past. Memories come flooding back: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade airing on TV, the smell of turkey and Thanksgiving goodies coming from the kitchen and the warmth of being surrounded by friends and family. These memories give me comfort and great joy remembering each day.

When I was on my own for the first time as an adult I wondered how I would handle Thanksgiving. I’d never cooked a turkey all by myself and stressed about the idea of doing one. I couldn’t recall ever hearing anyone share how they’d aced the turkey the first time they done it. I did my research: how big a turkey to get and how to best prepare it and then I made a decision…I’d get one precooked. Yes, I admit it. Precooked. Now, you may be thinking where’s the fun in that? But I was not looking to have fun, I wanted a turkey I wouldn’t have to stress out about. The precooked turkey delivered.

On that first Thanksgiving I got rave reviews. “Your turkey is so moist, how did you make it?” and “Wow, this is delicious” were comments I didn’t see coming, but happily received though with a tinge of guilt. I felt though I had given them a delicious bird I had somehow cheated my guests out of a “honest-to-goodness start-to-finish cooked” turkey (the kind where you wake up at 4 a.m. to get the bird going in the oven after you’ve thawed it for 48 hours. The kind where you pull out the innards and stuff it with dressing. The kind that you stress out about and spend all day trying to get right for the meal), and I felt I had to confess. “I’m glad you like the turkey, but I have to admit, there was really nothing to it. I got it precooked from the store. I just had to heat it up in the oven for two hours.” The truth was out and boy, did I feel better. The funny thing is sharing this information seemed to make my guests love the turkey even more, “What a great idea!” one guest shared. “I didn’t even think about stores offering precooked turkey, I’ll have to try that next year. This is really good,” said another.

As I reflected on that first Thanksgiving, I realized while I hoped to avoid the stress of cooking a turkey, I’d still stressed about not cooking the turkey all-by-myself. It was silly really. I’ve never really thought twice about how any other Thanksgiving was impacted by the taste of the turkey. It was usually a non-event, and I made the commitment after coming to this realization that I wouldn’t waste my time stressing over a Thanksgiving turkey again.

As we sit at the table this year, I look forward to delicious food, the smells, the parade, making memories with my kids and having great conversations with friends and family. I couldn’t be more thankful for having this kind of Thanksgiving, precooked turkey and all.

How are you preparing for Thanksgiving? How do you avoid the stress of the holidays?

Happy Thanksgiving.

Full of Disguises

Each October, as Halloween nears, my children pull out their favorite holiday books. Substitute Creature by Chris Gall has become a family favorite. The story is about a substitute teacher that has come to bring order to a class that is out-of-control. The substitute shares tales of children who have misbehaved and the dreadful things that have resulted from their actions to deter his current class. And it is eventually revealed that the substitute used to be mischievous himself when he was his students’ age which results in him having to wear his costume until he can redeem himself. And redeem himself he does. It’s a story of hope, accepting yourself—flaws and all, and living a life you feel good about. It’s about seeing the error of your ways, making amends, and finding your way back home.  My kids love it. We read it almost every night.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Not for the sinister decorations or gore that some may find thrilling. Instead I like the imagination it conjures up and creativity is exposes in all who participate. It never fails, each year I’ll see someone in an original costume that makes me wonder why didn’t I think of that?  Or decorations that pull me.

A Halloween costume can be very revealing, and not in the literal sense (though it can be that too). You can tell who has put effort and thought into their costume and who has not. It allows us to hide behind make-up, a hairdo, outfit or mask. For one night we become someone else. It can be freeing.

It reminds me of the book. How many of us are comfortable in your own skin? How many of us wish we were someone else, even if only temporary?  How do we disguise our true selves? Do some wear disguises each day without knowing it? Are disguises worn to protect ourselves from others? Or protect ourselves from knowing our inner most selves? It can be scary to think about.

The good news is there is hope, just like in the story. As we get comfortable with our true selves, any disguises we are wearing more easily come off. It’s accepting yourself as you are—flaws and all and living the life you were intended. It’s about finding your way back home (perhaps figuratively, but it’s true), living a life free of disguises.

Are you comfortable in your own skin, and sharing your true self with others? Or are you hiding behind a disguise like so many of us?

Happy Halloween.

Fruits of Your Labor

Our deck started to show some wear-and-tear over the summer. While the thought of delaying the project was appealing, the inevitability of replacing the deck sooner than later became apparent. My husband decided to take the task on, carefully determining what tools he would need, amount and size of the material, and came up with a plan to build the new deck.

After working on the project for several weeks, he was recently able to start laying down some of the boards. At the end of his second day we were admiring the job he had done so far. He shared that working on the project felt very rewarding because as he completed tasks, he could see the result of his work. He continued sharing that as a parent it’s not always easy to see the results of the foundation we are laying and knowing if what we’re trying to teach is working, and if we will ever be able to see tangible results. I stopped him there and said, “You just gave me my next blog entry!”

As parents, we often are looking for confirmation that we are doing a good job that we are doing right by our children and we’re teaching them, as we should. With the amount of judgment that goes on and everyone having an opinion, we can often feel like our parenting skills, no matter how thorough, how diligent or well intended, aren’t measuring up.

My sons and I were in a coffee shop recently getting a snack when my youngest had a meltdown. The food item he wanted was sold out, and nothing else would do. He quickly went from being excited to dismay to shouting and tears. As I worked to remain calm, my mind was racing with the thought why do you have to do this right now in public? Everyone must think I’m a terrible parent! I could feel anger simmering inside and knew nothing would quill him, and we would have to leave the store immediately. When I told my younger son we would have to leave without him getting anything to eat it only made him more upset. I was angry and embarrassed. He was angry and disappointed. Once we were outside, I asked my son how else we could have solved the problem. Him getting angry and upset only made us leave the shop. It didn’t get him what he wanted. I also reflected on myself, was there some other way I could have better handled that situation? I asked my son the question, “So, what do you think? Is there some other way we could have handled that? Sometimes places we go aren’t going to have what we want.” He seemed to consider this for a minute and then shared some problem-solving techniques he heard in school (Kelso’s Rules): take a break, talk about it, and take a deep breath. I stopped him there. “Those are good ideas,” I said. I also shared some insight with both my boys, “Sometimes Mom feels like she is being judged by others and it can make Mom feel embarrassed and angry. That’s Mom’s issue, not yours. I’m sorry I got angry.” It wasn’t fun to admit, but it felt good to be honest with my kids.

Like my husband pointed out, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full fruits of our labors of being parents. We won’t necessarily know if we are truly successful in fully teaching our children everything we’re trying to, but it feels good when you see a glimmer of your efforts sinking in, your children making choices that they feel good about, and instances where your child makes a decision that allows for a positive outcome.

How do handle situation where you feel like you’re being judged?

How are you experiencing the fruits of your labor?

The End

We just finished reading the book My Dog Skip by Willie Morris. It is a touching story about a boy and his dog. I had seen the movie several years ago and thought our sons would enjoy it.

At the end of the book, the author speaks of Skip’s passing and how Skip is buried not under the elm tree, but in his heart. As I read the last two pages to my sons I reflected on pets I had had growing up, and one in particular that reminded me of Willie and his relationship with Skip. Socks was my cat of 18 years when she passed. I had had her since I was 11 years old. She was a member of the family, gave unconditional love, seemed to be attuned to my feelings (showing great empathy and sympathy), and has been solely missed since her passing.

As I read the last few pages of My Dog Skip, my voice cracked and tears came to my eyes. I tried to hold the tears back, taking deep breaths and pausing, but it didn’t work. I cried and my kids saw it.

My kids asked, “Are you crying?” to which I replied, “Yes, because it’s sad.” They both looked at me quizzically for a moment. It was the first time they had seen their mom cry openly in front of them, tears of sadness. Prior I had only shared tears of joy. I continued to read the last few sentences, trying but failing to hide my feelings. When I said “The End” my oldest son burst into tears, and continued crying. My husband and I tried to console him. At first I thought he was crying because I had been crying, but soon understood that he was crying because my crying confirmed what the book told us. Skip was dead.

I believe this is the first time my son grasped that things don’t live forever. It’s a hard concept to understand as a child. He started to understand that we all will die one day, even him. He was very upset that my husband and I would die one day. I know I felt the same way at the idea of losing my parents as a child, and still get teary-eyed thinking about that happening in the future. It’s inevitable, but I still doesn’t make it any easier.

What struck my husband and I about what occurred was how we handled the situation. First I attempted to talk to my son about death. I didn’t try to sugarcoat it or promise that it wouldn’t happen for a long time, but reminded him that life is a gift, that we need to take steps to try to live as long as possible eating healthy things, exercising and being safe, but we also need to figure out how to enjoy it while we’re here. I explained that we have to treasure the time we have together and work to make the most of it while we have it together. He seemed to understand all that I was saying, but it didn’t stop the crying. It was upsetting to see him this way, and a part of me wanted to say whatever was needed to get him back to a calm or happy state, but I recognized the importance of the discussion we were having.

At one point, my son got angry with himself for continuing to cry and said, “I can’t wait until I’m older and braver.” “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Because I’ll be braver, and won’t cry so easily.” I reminded him that Mom is much older and still cries. He seemed to think about this for a minute as if understanding it might be okay to feel his emotions as he grew older. What a great moment to be a part of.

My husband sat with my son following me and talked to my son about death. After a while, and seeing that continuing to talk about death was only going to lengthen the time our son was crying, he tried to turn the subject to happier things, upcoming trips we have planned, and making breakfast in the morning. While it didn’t completely work, we knew we needed to give our son some time to work through his newfound knowledge and feelings in his own way.

It wasn’t easy, but was necessary.

As a parent, we all want to make our child happy and hate to see them upset. A typical reaction is to help your child “get over” the negative feeling and push them back into a positive one, but that comes at an expense of your child missing the opportunity to gain a needed tool to deal with negative emotions as they get older. Being able to help your child feel the negative feeling and work through it is a powerful tool we can provide. It might not feel comfortable for us as parents, but many things about being a parent aren’t.

It’s good to cry, it’s good to show our kids we all experience feelings, even the hard ones as adults. It makes us vulnerable to each other. It makes our bonds stronger while we’re here on earth and beyond “The End.”

How do you help your child experience their emotions? How have you helped your child deal with the death of a loved one?

Wooden Teeth and Honesty

As we observe President’s Day this Monday, we are reminded of some of our most famous forefathers, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. When I was a child I knew a handful of things about George Washington:

  • He chopped down a cherry tree – I never thought to inquire why?
  • He never told a lie
  • He was our first president
  • He had wooden teeth – I did wonder how did he eat with wooden teeth? That sounded like a really hard thing to do.

As a child I knew the following about Abraham Lincoln:

  • He wore a tall hat and had an interesting looking beard
  • He was honest
  • He freed the slaves
  • He is on the penny – I never thought about what it took for someone to end up on currency. My child’s mind determined you had to be highly respected. My parents definitely instilled the belief that there is a direct correlation between honesty and respect.

As I reflect on our past and present leaders I think about the role they have played in leading our country and the example they set for our children. We are brought up to respect these leader, they were wise, their names are synonymous with honest and being truthful, and they were people to respect. They may not have been perfect (they chopped down a cherry tree), but they do try their best (they never lied or at least we’d like to believe they didn’t), they could handle difficult situations (be the first president, eat with wooden teeth, liberate oppressed citizens), and did a good enough job to end up on the money we spend today. We are reminded daily, when we pay cash for something, of their accomplishments and our continued respect for them.

Of course, as adults we realize our presidents, while great in many ways, were fallible. It reminds us as parents that we too may be great in many ways to our children, but that’s not the whole story. As parents we make choices in how we conduct ourselves and are role models for our children – we’re not perfect (none of us are), we try our best (but we make mistakes), we all handle difficult situations (its part of life) and while we’ll likely never end up doing anything that will make us famous or end up on a coin or paper bill, we do have the opportunity to be trustworthy and respected by our friends, family and peers, but most importantly by our kids.

Think about what it would be like for your children to honor you every day as an adult, by the way they treat others, the way they conduct themselves; all as a result of the example you set.

A President may lead the country, but you lead something even more valuable–the raising of your child. And that’s the honest truth. Happy Presidents Day.