First Day Jitters

How did your child’s school year start?

My oldest is starting high school (gulp), and while school being remote lessened some of his first day jitters, it didn’t eliminate them.

Our son stressed about how the first day would go. Not about getting lost in the new school, or worrying about how he’d fit in, but about when to connect online, how to, and what his schedule was going to be.

My husband and I tried to reassure him that that everyone was working hard to get schedules done and communicate the details out to students. He was in the same boat with his classmates and needed to have some patience. He wasn’t convinced. I didn’t realize how stressed he was until I got an email from one of his teachers with details on a class. Trying to show my son he didn’t have anything to worry about, I decided to have a little fun with him. I genuinely thought he’d catch on to my ‘being silly’ immediately. “I got a note from your teacher,” I said. His shoulders relaxed. “It’s a sewing class.” His shoulders tightened again. Ah oh, I thought, I was expecting ‘a yea, right!’ Not tightened shoulders. “Sewing? I’m not taking sewing!” He was overreacting and, while I should have let him off the hook, I decided to let it play out a little longer. “Yea, sewing. It’s a good skill to have.” “I am not taking sewing!” he said. His stress was way up. I decided to let him know the truth. “I’m kidding kiddo, the note is from your PE teacher.” I smiled. I didn’t know how he’d react. He smiled relieved. “Mom,” he laughed. “Sorry, I just wanted to have a little fun with you.” He was happy to have a class he wanted, and I was relieved he wasn’t upset with me.

There were some technical challenges we suffered through on the first day (with computer apps, etc.), but otherwise he had a good first day. At the end of the day he was happy. It clearly went better than he’d expected. All those jitters for nothing, right? Yet, we all feel them particularly when we are doing something new (school, new job, new city).

We don’t know how the school year will unfold, but are grateful to have first day jitters behind us.

How are you helping your child acclimate to the new school year?

Assume Accountability

Have you assumed your child was thinking or feeling a certain way, and learned later you were wrong?

My oldest is a challenging person to read. He is a young man of few words. You have to work on him to drag out what he’s thinking. It can be easy to assume I know what he’s thinking or how he feels if I don’t spend the time to find out.

We had decided to go walk after dinner as a family. I was busy trying to get some remaining emails out for work while getting my shoes on to walk. I was half-listening to the conversation my husband was having with my oldest son. My husband and son were talking about how something was annoying. My oldest said, “Mom, you know what else is annoying?” My knee jerk reaction was that he was going to say “me” I’m not exactly why — I’d been holding him more accountable and knew he wasn’t super happy about that (who ever is?) and thought he might voice his disdain by taking a shot at me (to test me holding him accountable again?). I assumed wrong. I said, “I really don’t want to know.” “Why?” he asked. “Because I don’t want to hear it’s me.” “Why would I say it’s you?” he asked. “Well, you tell Mom how boring, or uncool, or whatever I am sometimes. I just figured you were just adding to the list.” He looked hurt, wounded almost, that I would think this of him. It was one of those moments as a parent where you pause and question your logic and thinking — realizing you’ve made a mistake (misunderstood, misjudged the situation, etc.). “Well, I was going to say Gator fans,” he concluded with a diminishing smile. He was trying to engage me in something he thought would make me smile (he knows I am no fan of my rival school’s mascot), maybe even laugh, and I hadn’t allowed him to do it. I hated that I hadn’t just said “what?” when he first asked the question.

I reflected on the exchange following our walk. By assuming what my son was thinking and how he would respond, I had indeed made an error. I reminded myself that he’s a teen and I’m the adult. His full frontal cortex is still forming, and mine is mature. I need to be the adult and not assume my child is out to push buttons or minimize my role, or challenge my love for him. I need him to know I am the adult, he is loved regard of what he says, and I should never put words in his mouth (or decide in my mind what he’s going to say before he’s said it). If I need to hold him accountable for saying something insensitive or hurtful I will. As the adult, it’s my job. At the same time, I need to hold myself accountable and hear him out first, and let him speak. And remember the downsides of assuming.

Have you ever assumed wrong about what your child has said or done, or about their intentions? How do you hold your child and yourself accountable?

I will be off next week, but back following. Happy Labor Day!

Who Needs a Hug?

Ever had one of those days where you just need a hug?

I was wrapping up a particularly stressful day and joined my family in the kitchen. “I could use a hug,” I said to my husband. He knows this is code for I need you to give me some reassurance (hugs work great) that lets me know I’ll get through this/this too shall pass/everyday won’t be like today. My younger son jumped up from his chair and said, “Let’s give Mom a hug sandwich!” My husband and I were reminded of hug sandwiches we’d done with our sons when they were much younger. It would be a fun way for us to show affection for each other and include the kids. There were ham sandwich hugs (one kid in between my husband and I), double decker (both kids in between us), and other silly variations. My son suggesting a hug sandwich was just what I needed that day.

Once the hug sandwich began, we noticed our older son sitting down not joining us. My husband and I looked at each other, and then he asked our son to join us. In typical teenage fashion he said “no.” “Ah, come on,” I responded, “everyone needs a hug every once in a while. Join us.” “Nope,” he said. My husband, younger son and I briefly commiserated and decided he was going to get a hug whether he wanted one or not. My husband said. “Okay, if you’re not coming to us, we’re coming to you.” We walked in our 3-person hug sandwich towards my oldest son (I was going backwards relying on my husband and younger son to guide me). There was much laughter as we shuffled across the room. Once we were in front of my oldest, who was still seated, we asked him to join us. “No,” he repeated. We weren’t giving up. We all started asking him to join us. Finally we started repeating his name over and over. After he realized we weren’t going to give up he stood up and gave us a resigned, “fine.” He briefly joined the family hug (1-2 seconds max) sandwich before stepping away and ensuring he got some distance from us so we couldn’t keep after him. 😊

The hug was something we all needed — reminding us we’re there for each other, we care about each other, and can be silly together regardless how old we are.

How do you do hugs in your family?

Brotherly Love

My boys are opposites. One loves sports, the other hates competition. One is very conscious, the other lets things roll off his back with ease. The list goes on.

Being opposite in so many things has helped their relationship in many ways. It’s challenged it in others — one thinking their way (or mindset) is better (or smarter, or more just) than the other. This is when we see our boys defend their positions (again in opposite styles) — one arguing, while the other calmly lays out the facts (which drives his brother even more bananas). My husband and I often intervene, not because our boys need us to, but because the argument either requires tempers to be calmed, or we need the noise lessened — particularly when it’s clear their really is no one is “right” per se — and the boys need to be reminded it’s okay to have a differing opinion or way of thinking about things from others.

As we were driving in the car after getting out of town for a brief reprieve, we started to hear our boys making a commotion in the back seat. I couldn’t really make out what they were doing in the rear view mirror, but knew there was some kind of struggle going on with occasional words being shared. “No fair,” one said. The other replied, “You can’t be serious.” He laughed. “What are you all doing back there?” I asked in a tone that told them I was going to start lecturing them if they didn’t cut it out. “We’re just elbow wrestling, Mom,” my youngest said. “Elbow wrestling?” I said. “Yea,” my oldest replies, “It’s just something we do.” They started laughing and my fears waned. They weren’t arguing or having a dispute. They were just wrestling (mind you in a different way), like most brothers do. The way they were playing, it showed while they are very different they do have something in common, brotherly love.

How does your child get along with their sibling or cousins? How do they show love for others that may be different from them?

A Sign of Hope

What gives you hope during difficult times?

Nature calms me. I’ve seen it have similar effects on my husband and boys too.

At the end of a stressful work day I needed to clear my head. It had been raining most of the day but started to clear up. Even though I was exhausted I asked my youngest son if he’d go with me on a walk.

As we left the house, I tried to leave my work day worries behind, but it wasn’t easy to do. After walking in silence for a few blocks my son and I started talking. We had a nice conversation, and my earlier stress started slipping away. As we rounded the corner towards our house, a rainbow appeared in the sky. I decided to stop and take a picture. My son pointed out that the rainbow went all the way across the sky. “It’s a full rainbow,” he said. We stood there and marveled at the sight for a few minutes. It almost felt like a someone was sending me a message that everything was going to be okay. It was just the sign of hope I needed.

Where are you finding hope these days?

Power Outage

How does your family do during a power outage?

It was the hottest day of the year (of course), we had shades drawn to keep the heat out and fans going (having central AC is uncommon in our part of the country so this is how we typically try to make it through warm days). We thought we were going to make it through the day successfully keeping the temperature inside the house down until the power went out mid-afternoon.

COVID-19 has already made it challenging for our kids to entertain themselves with so much free time during the summer. The heat was keeping them from going outside. The power going out felt like adding insult to injury.

At first my boys were hopeful it was just a blip and the electricity would be back on soon. Screen withdrawal started setting in once they realized it was going to be a while before power was restored. After they accepted this, instead of complaining they started to strategize around what they could do together to beat boredom. Normally they do their own thing, but the outage gave (forced?) them an opportunity to come together. It was fun to see what they came up with to kill time. One activity took them into my older son’s closet. His closest has extra storage space and I had stored some old college memorabilia there and had completely forgotten about it. My sons walked out with some artifacts from my college days asking “what is this?” It was a decorated sorority paddle. I have no idea why I ever decorated a paddle, much less kept it. The kids thought it was hilarious. They asked, “did you hit each other with this?” Oh my goodness. I doubled over in laughter. “No!,” I explained, “ it was just something we did…bought a paddle and decorated it.” Just saying it out loud made the idea seem ridiculous.

The power outage could have been one more bummer happening during the pandemic, but it turned out to bring us together in yet one more new way. Us laughing together was the best part. I’m also aware I’ll now have to make some time and clean out what I’m storing in my son’s closet. 😊

How are you and your child handling curveballs, like power outages, you’re experiencing during COVID-19?

Vacation Dreams

How did your vacation plans change this year?

We, like most, scrapped our vacation plans (that were supposed to start in April) once COVID hit. We were hoping we’d be able to travel in the summer, but as the pandemic has lingered our plans have changed. Staying closer to home, trying to come up with things to do.

Planning and the anticipation of an upcoming trip is half the fun of going on vacation in our house. Now even local trips outside the city are tempered with hope that COVID infection rates won’t rise causing state to shutdown again. Instead of anticipation it can be nerve racking.

We all need time away, a break, an opportunity to rest and just be. We’ve had a lot of time to be together, but crave a different landscape. We desperately want to be able to move about like we could before.

In our family, we’ll occasionally ask each other, “What are you most looking forward to?” The response is usually trip related, or about a pending activity or celebration. Almost all take place away from our home. If you ask that question now you’ll hear, “Being able to see my friends”, “Playing sports”, or “Getting out of here.”

We’re dreaming of vacation and being able to move freely (and safely) again.

What are you and your child dreaming of doing post-COVID?

The Benefits of Boredom

Quarantine is creating boredom for many of us, including my kids.

My boys have been thrilled to have more free time since school has been out (though they’ve had increased free time since the virus closed school and learning went online). My husband and I have talked about what we can do to get our kids unglued from screens, but hadn’t really come up with much beyond having the kids go outside for daily physical activity, and reading as a family.

Our oldest helped answer the question when he asked to talk to his father one evening. “Dad, can I talk to you?” My husband described that when my son asked him this, he appeared to have something weighing on his mind. My husband started thinking through what my son might want to discuss and was bracing himself for a worst case scenario— was he looking at inappropriate content on the web, was he wanted to do hang out with friends and disregard the precautions needed to protect against the virus? My husband shared that my son was struggling to get out what he wanted to say. After a minute or so, he sighed and said, “Dad, I’m really bored. There’s nothing to do. If you have any projects you plan to work on around the house tomorrow, can I help you?” We’ll, of course, my husband was relieved. He agreed our son could help him around the house and outside.

After helping his father the following day, before going to bed, he asked my husband if he could help him again the next day. My husband agreed. An interesting turn of events since previous requests for help had been met with sighs and resistance. 😊

My husband joked that he’d have to start coming up with things for them to do, because as a team, they were making quick work of our house projects. I shared that our son was likely experiencing the need to contribute in a meaningful way. Much like we work or volunteer. It might be to make money or to help a cause, but we’re contributing, something I think is a desire we all share, particularly as you grow older and become capable of contributing. We discussed giving our sons (both boys) more structure during the summer with ideas around academics, being creative, and physical. We’ll see what works.

My son had to become bored to understand the benefit (and joy?) of contributing. How is your child dealing with any boredom? How are you turning the boredom into a benefit?

Teen Distancing

If you have a teen, do you notice them wanting more space?

My oldest is definitely covets alone time. It’s not uncommon for him to disappear for hours to listen to music, exercise, text or talk with his friends, or just have time away from the rest of us. I get it. I can recall being a teen and spending hours on end in my room listening to music, and just enjoying having time to myself.

We’ve needed a change of scenery from being cooped up due to Covid, and went to a neighboring county for respite. This county has many hiking trails. I had been feeling my son’s distance and asked if he’d go on a mother-son hike with me. My hope was that we could take a leisurely walk and just reconnect. I could better understand what he is feeling — being separated from friends, school being over, the summer and upcoming plans changed or cancelled — and see how (or if) I could help. My son reluctantly agreed. He was suspicious that I had an ulterior motive than just talking (such as wanting to talk to him about something specific), but I assured him I just wanted to connect with no agenda to talk about anything specific.

We went for our hike, or should I say jog? We did walk but you would have thought we were having a race to see how fast we could complete the hike. I had to ask my son to slow down repeatedly. We didn’t have to be too concerned with social/physical distancing because he was always 20 feet in front of me. I started shouting my questions to him (thankfully we had the hiking trail to ourselves), “I just want to check-in with you. How are you doing?” I asked. His response, “Fine.” I tried again, “How are you feeling about things? School being over, and not being able to see your friends?” “Fine,” he responded again. Huff, huff, huff. Image me speed walking up and down inclines trying to get my son to engage in a meaningful dialogue. I’m sure it was quite a sight. “Please, slow down. It’s not a race. I just want to talk, you have been more distant lately, and I just want to make sure you’re okay. That you and I are okay.” “Mom,” he slowed down (hallelujah!), “We’re fine. I just want space. I’m a teenager. I’d prefer not to be cooped up, but what are you going to do? We have to until this is over. It sucks, but it’s just the way it is.”

He continued his slightly slower cadence so I was able to get in a few more questions and get more answers before we finished. He went off on his own once we rejoined his younger brother and my husband.

I remember being his age and seeking more independence from my parents. It’s bittersweet. Amazing to see him grow tinged with sadness with just how soon he’ll be off on his own. While he may want me to give him some teen distance now, I hope he’ll periodically slow down and allow for us to be closer.

How are you bridging any distancing that may be going on with you and your child? How are you keeping them close during this time of distancing?

A Dad’s Impact

What impact did your father have on you?

Mine was present and involved. I am fortunate, I know.

My husband is also present and involved with our sons lives, even more so than his father or mine were in our respective upbringings. He understands the importance of his role and the benefit his boys gain from him being engaged in their lives.

Many men are more present, more involved, and even picking up more of the responsibility of raising their child. It has a real impact, and makes a difference with your child, your significant other, and your family. Dad’s matter.

How is Dad making a difference in your child’s life? How will you be celebrating Dad today?

I will be taking a few weeks off to rest and recharge, and will return in July.