A Death in the Family

How do you explain death to a child?

My uncle recently passed away after his health had been declining for a while. He was a wonderful man, and an amazing uncle who was an important part of my life, but knowing that he is no longer in pain gives me some peace.

My boys had met and visited their great uncle a handful of times. Twice this past year. When I realized my uncle didn’t have long to live I let the boys know. My oldest said, “That’s sad.” My youngest had a much stronger reaction. “He’s going to die?” His eyes watered as he began to cry. After a few minutes he said, “I didn’t think I would experience death this early.” We talked about my uncle and I explained that it was okay to cry, normal to cry, but to remember the good life my uncle had had, and how lucky we were for knowing him. It seemed to ease my son’s pain, but I knew his tears were a combination of both my uncle’s passing and the realization that everyone will eventually die. It’s hard to come to terms with that when you’re young. I remember having a similar realization around his age and how sad, angry and scared it made me.

Death is hard to explain. Grieving is unique to the individual and situation. I hope my son doesn’t dwell on death, and his loved ones mortality, but do hope he’ll share how he’s experiencing and processing the loss of this loved family member so we can help him work through his grieving.

How have you helped your child work through the pain and emotions of losing a loved one?

Love at 10

What did you think love was when you were 10?

I only knew love at 10 in two forms: real – love from my parents; family and the occasional nod from the family pet; and what I thought love was supposed to be – what I saw on TV,  and in movies. I can remember my first crush at nine — a classmate in my 3rd grade class. I liked him not only because he was handsome, but because I thought he was nice and we could easily talk at school. I didn’t get flustered or conscientious when I was around him, he seemed to like me for me. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. I was fearful that if I said anything he might reject the idea of us (and therefore me), and didn’t want to risk it. I hoped he might feel the same way and also be struggling with how to share his feelings, but I found out soon enough, that was not the case, when he asked a classmate and close friend of mine to be his girlfriend. I was, in fact, crushed, and if memory serves me right, I voiced this to him. I recall a brief exchange where he wanted me to talk to him about problems he was having with his girlfriend — I heard him out, told him I had no clue how to help him, and ensured I caught his eye. “This wouldn’t have happened with me,” I said (wow, where did I get the guts to say that? I thought). His eyes widened ever so briefly as he had an ‘aha’ moment, he maintained eye contact, smiled a big understanding smile as though he liked the thought (I smiled back), then almost as quickly broke eye contact, cast his head down and frowned realizing the situation he was in. It was nice to understand for a brief moment that maybe he felt the same way I did, and just didn’t know how to express himself.  In my youth, I was always disappointed we weren’t able to maintain the friendship we’d previously had after that point. I moved away a year later and that was that.

My youngest, thankfully, is way ahead of where I was at when I was 10. His Asperger’s gives him clarity on what he likes and doesn’t like, and the ability to voice his opinion without any hesitation (it can be an inspiration and strength in certain situations; a challenge we have to work to overcome in others). He decided this year for Valentine’s Day he wanted to do something with his ‘girlfriend’. Instead of us parents commiserating and deciding where the kids go and what they do, we left it up to them. “Why don’t you call her and ask her what she’d like to do?” I suggested. My husband role-played the phone call with my son to prepare him. He called her and the exchange was pretty priceless. He asked her what she wanted to do, she suggested going to the Aquarium and my son said, “I could be okay with that. I don’t really care where we go. I super-duper don’t really care.” Okay, so we have some work to do on phone etiquette. He hung up the phone and we realized he hadn’t confirmed a time and logistical details. He called back and finalized the afternoon with her. We talked about what he wanted to get her for Valentine’s Day after. He said ‘a card’ and I offered that we might get her something in addition to the card. His thoughts went to candy, mine went a different direction. “What about a wrist corsage,” I asked, “Its small flowers that you can wear on your wrist. She likes flowers, do you think she might like something like that?” My son smiled. “Yes, she would. Let’s get her that!” Okay, so I intervened a little on this one — guiding him to get the girl a present I probably would have flipped over when I was her age.

My son is very clear on what he likes — family, cats and anyone who is nice to others; geography and pretty much everything associated with it; acting/drama; drawing; and his girlfriend. There is no waffling, uncertainty, or ability for anyone not to understand how he feels. It’s a clarity I wished I had more fully owned when I was his age. Clarity around who and what you love seems to make life so much easier.

What does your child love?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Falling in Love — Don’t Go Changing

Who was your first crush? How did you let them know you liked them? Were you yourself, or did you change yourself to try to be what you thought they’d want you to be?

My youngest is learning about love. He has had a girlfriend for several years. He adores her, and has already planned out their future life (where they’ll live, the number of kids they’ll have and their names). But, he has a new friend at school who insists she loves him. She’s new to his class and sits next to him.

With my youngest being on the autism spectrum, he struggles with social cues. Picking up on others non-verbal communication (facial expression, body stance, proximity, etc.) and sometimes struggles with their meaning. He often takes others very literally, but in the case of this young woman, he is confused when she says “I love you.”

I recently went to my son’s school to see him participate in a fundraiser (Walk-a-thon). His classmate was there and he introduced me. She said “Seriously?” with a nervous giggle. And when my son confirmed I was indeed his mom she said, “Well, please don’t take him away from me because I really like talking to him.” I was a little confused by this statement because there was no discussion prior around anyone taking anyone else away.  After watching my son with her for a little while I started to understand why this girl had feelings for my son.

My son doesn’t have many friends. He is a very lovable kid, but not understanding social cues has made it difficult for him to truly bond with others. This girl likes my son as he is. She doesn’t expect him to act a certain way, or want him to change. My son only knows how to be himself. He likes talking to this girl. He likes that she likes him as he is. He is excited by the prospect of having a friend. What I picked up at the Walk-a-thon was that my son is showing this girl attention she isn’t used to, he accepts her as she is, and isn’t looking for her to change. I know if I ever came across a boy who had so easily accepted me as I was at their age, I probably would have liked him too.

Now my son is dealing with a girl who doesn’t understand the way my son’s mind works, and mistakes his interest in having a friend, as him being interested in her as more than a friend. She recently wrote him a letter that he brought home. It read something to the effect of, “Are you mad at me? I hope not, because I love you and I miss talking to you. Please don’t break my heart.” It broke my heart reading it. She is so courageous to be so open and sure about her feelings. My son doesn’t love her. My son does like having a friend, and thinks this girl is nice. I’m not sure how she will understand that. My son has tried telling her, “I just want to be friends” after getting some coaching from my husband and his older brother, but she seems to be holding out hope that he will change his mind.

As a young person, I would have been crushed if I had had the guts to tell a boy I liked him and then he rejected me (telling me he just wanted to be friends would have felt like a rejection). When I was their age, I didn’t have the guts. I am aware of how we form opinions of who we are and what we have to offer the world early in life. When we don’t feel like we are accepted or our affections reciprocated it allows the seed of “I’m not good enough” to take hold. I don’t want my son’s friend to not feel she’s good enough. I’m not sure my son could or would handle it differently if he didn’t have the challenges that come with being on the spectrum. Maybe he would have not be so open to being friends with her, maybe he would have been more conscientious about how he was behaving around her or other girls. I’d rather him be who is as he is. Not getting caught up in ‘appearances’ — what you look like, who you’re friends with, what activities you’re into, where you live, etc. — is refreshing. People like this are rare. I get why this young person loves my son. I only hope that she can accept he likes her as she is, and she can like herself that way too.

How have you stayed true to who you are in relationship? How are you helping your child avoid the “I’m not good enough” seed from starting to grow?

Mom Appreciation

When was the first time you appreciated your parent or primary caregiver?

I adored my mother as a child. I thought she was the most beautiful, perfect person there was.

I resisted her as a teenager. I looked to her for guidance, but fought for my independence and space to make my own way.

I moved away from her (figuratively and literally) slowly over time — after I finished school, moved away and eventually got married.

Then I had my son. When I had him home for a few days I had an ‘aha’ moment. So this is what it takes to be a parent. This is work. This is hard. Wow, my mom must have really loved me. She made parenting look easy. She always had a confidence in her parenting skills and I never doubted her ability to do the job. In reflection, I am in awe of her and what she accomplished. Now it was my turn, which got me thinking will I be as good a mom to my boys as she was to me? It’s motivated me to try my best to live up to the bar she set everyday since.

As a mom, I think about my boys and how they view me. Am I adored by them? If I am, they hide it well. 🙂 Are they resisting me? A little, for sure. Are they starting to move away? Thankfully no. But one thing I know — they love me, and I, with every ounce of my being, love them.

Thank you, Mom, for everything, and Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all the other moms out there.

I will be taking some time off to enjoy time with family and friends and will be back in June.

 

 

I Love You

How do you express love for one another in your family?

In our family there are the obvious signs–hugs whenever the kids will let me give them one, and kisses on the check at bedtime–and the less obvious signs–being present with them, listening to them, and trying to teach or help them with something when they are curious or struggling–love comes in many forms.

My oldest is starting to ‘outgrow’ hugs and kisses which is bittersweet. I knew this time would come. My youngest loves hugs, getting kisses on the cheek and saying, “I love you!” In fact, he enjoys saying ‘I love you’ so much, we’ve determined he means it sometimes, and other times uses it as a diversionary tactic: to delay having to set the table, or get started on homework. It’s not uncommon for you to ask him to do one of these tasks and hear in response, “Mom, I love you!” or “Dad, I love you!” While it’s very sweet, my husband and I realize what he’s up to. Still I’m amazed that he figured out how to use the phrase to his advantage at such a young age.

Getting the kids to take a bath or shower can be a struggle, particularly for our youngest. He will delay the inevitable as long as he can, then go into the bathroom and take his time getting cleaned and/or getting dressed. After a shower one morning, as I was trying to prompt him to hurry up to dry off and get dressed quickly so we could get out of the house to school and work, he didn’t fuss or simply say, “Okay, Mom.” Instead he said from the other side of the door, “I love you, Mom.” I replied, “I love you too, but we need to hurry!” After several more minutes he emerged, still with a towel around him, but with a big grin on his face. “Urgh! Why aren’t you ready?” I asked. He gestured towards the fogged-up mirror. On it I could see in his handwriting the words: To Mom, I Love You.  How could I stay mad? This time his message felt part diversionary tactic, part love letter. Regardless, I treasured his simple message. It’s not everyday your morning gets interrupted by a proclamation of love. It’s one of those moments I’ll remember forever.

When has your child caught you off-guard with their love for you?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

The Greatest Gift I got from my Dad

What are your best memories of your father?

A flood of memories come pouring back in each Father’s Day. I can see my dad rooting me on when I played a sport, I can remember him teaching me skills I needed to be independent, I  can recall watching many a college football game together. There are many, many wonderful memories. While my father gave me many gifts, there was one in particular I hold above most others, he gave me the gift of knowing myself. There are moments in time, when he would help show me what I have to offer (to another person, to a sport, to myself or to the world) simply by telling me what he’d observed. It made me feel recognized, valued and appreciated. Too often in life, you can think no one is paying attention. My dad ensured I knew that wasn’t the case. It’s the greatest gift he’s ever given me. I don’t think he realizes the impact those conversations have had. I’m grown now, but still cherish these talks when we have them and I’ll miss them desperately when he’s gone. In my eyes, while not a perfect man, he’s the perfect dad.

As you raise your child, what special memories are you creating that they’ll remember future Father’s Days from now? What’s your most treasured memories from your own dad.

Happy Father’s Day!

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?

 

Love, Mom

How will you celebrate Mom today?

In the past, I just wanted alone time. Peace and quiet — what a luxury.

There were years I wanted flowers or a spa trip — don’t get me wrong, I love these treats, but I love hand-written cards, gifts, hugs and kisses more.

I love being a mom. I love being silly and seeing my kids delight and giggle. I love watching them as they grow into young men. I love watching my husband with my boys. I love that they love me and I love them back. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, and the most rewarding. I’m exhausted, and content, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How do you experience being a parent? How do you celebrate being a mom (or celebrating your mom)?

Happy Mother’s Day!

Young Love

Who was your first crush?

The first person I can remember swooning over was Shaun Cassidy. Yes, that Shaun Cassidy. I had a Shaun Cassidy iron-on t-shirt and thought he was absolutely dreamy. I had no idea what I was feeling other than I thought this boy was really handsome, and could sing a catchy tune, and would love it if he felt I was dreamy too. My first, non-fantasy crush was a boy in my third grade class, Brian. He and I had always been friendly to each other, but one day someone came into class, said something mean to me, and Brian defended me. I was smitten.  I was seeing Brian in a new light. He seemed like more than a friend, but someone who cared. I didn’t know what to do with this feeling as an eight-year-old. It faded quickly once Brian decided he wanted to date my classmate, Mallory. I was a little heart-broken, but got over it quickly.

My boys are both interested in other people. My oldest is interested in girls, but not sure what do to with it. Similar to how I was in third grade. There are many myths around what you’re supposed to do, and when you’re supposed to do them, and how you’re supposed to magically figure out how love works. My oldest decided he liked one of his classmates and she would make a good girlfriend because they like the same things and get along. He has taken no action to let her know how he feels. On the flip side, my youngest has no fear around ‘dating.’ He and his classmate even had an ‘engagement’ picnic last year. I have to admit my husband and I were surprised when this happened as we thought he and this girl were just good friends, but  it’s fun to hear him still talk about all the wonderful things they are going to do when they are both 25 including getting married, where they are going to live, what their jobs will be and how many kids they will have. (I have no idea how they came up with this all happening at 25, but it’s really sweet to hear them talk about it).

What do you do with young love?  How do you dip your toe into romance at such a young age? Of course, my husband and I have told the kids that they don’t need to worry about dating for many years, there is no pressure. And if they like someone, the best way to let them know is to tell them. Yes, it can be scary, and yes, you can get rejected, but you’re not going to know if you don’t try. We’ve offered to role play with them to help them figure out how or what they want to say to someone they are interested in. Of course, my youngest doesn’t seem to think he needs much help, since he’s already ‘engaged’, but my oldest does. Fear of looking stupid, being embarrassed, or rejected are holding him back. I think most of us can understand how he feels. Young love is hard.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, there is pressure to “show how much you love someone” or at least, identify someone you like. That’s a lot for anyone at any age. My oldest isn’t ready to reveal his feelings for anyone just yet. I hope with my husband and my help, we can give him the courage that he needs to try when he’s ready.

How did you experience young love?  How are you helping your child navigate feelings for another person?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

#Lovin’ It

With abundant heart decorations in stores, my kids have expressed an interest in why we celebrate Valentine’s Day, and who their valentine should be (thankfully, it appears the only ideas coming to mind are Mom and Dad–phew!). It’s forced me to come to terms with my own experience with this well-intended holiday.

I have to admit, Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. While there was a lot of people in love, I wasn’t exactly loving it. I stressed out about who would be my Valentine as a teen and young adult, when I was dating I stressed about what to get my Valentine. How serious is this relationship anyway? What does my gift say about the relationship–it’s too serious or not serious enough? Hard to find the romance amongst all the stress. After getting married and had kids, I’ve stressed about trying to remember the holiday and take action on it. While I like the idea of romantic gestures, I don’t think they should be stress inducing or be limited to Valentine’s Day. My idea of what a romantic gesture has changed over time too. I used to crave flowers, jewelry or a fancy dinner. Now I treasure connection, conversation, handholding, foot rubs, or a simple card. They are gifts that require nothing more than thought, and time. They are stress free,  and I love them. It helps to think I can share this knowledge with my kids…hopefully they’ll avoid much of the unnecessary stress I experienced.

How have you explained Valentine’s Day to your child? What is the best stress-free gift you have given or received?