The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone. As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others. I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force my wants and needs on him, but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?

Each of us has a little Mr. Burns in us

Have you ever had your child make an observation that was both insightful and hilarious?

My boys have recently been exposed to The Simpsons. I’ve watched The Simpsons most of my adult life and attempted not to expose them to it for as long as possible. I remember my mom,  who was an elementary teacher, wasn’t a fan — she didn’t like the show and what it was ‘teaching‘ the kids (particularly Bart being rude to his father, principal Skinner, teachers, etc.). As a younger person, I thought my mom was overreacting to the show, but as a parent and seeing how influenced kids are by what they see (my boys included), I got it. I’ve always enjoyed the show, but felt my boys needed to be a little older so they would understand right from wrong and appreciate that this is a cartoon, not an acceptable way to act in real life.

After many conversations about it with their father and I, we finally allowed our kids to watch an episode. They were instantly hooked. My oldest in particular. He loves the situations the characters get themselves into and out of, the relationships between the characters and the humorous way they take on topics (political or otherwise). Side note: did you know there was an episode that predicted Donald Trump would be President (Bart to the Future, which first aired in 2000)? Yikes! I’m sure I thought that idea was hilarious in 2000 — not so much anymore.  Regardless, I didn’t remember that episode until my son watched it.

My family and I were in the car together coming home. My oldest asked why people do mean things to each other? After my husband and I attempted to explain why this happens — one person feels hurt or doesn’t like what the other person is doing, or they are feeling bad about something (maybe themselves) and take that out on someone else, or sometimes they do mean things because they can (get away with it) — my son interrupted us with a keen observation. “We all have a little Mr. Burns in us, don’t we?” He continued, “Mr. Burns only thinks about himself and what he wants. He doesn’t think or care about how his actions will effect others.” When he finished, I asked my younger son, “What do you think about what your brother just said?” He replied, “Excellent” in his best C. Montgomery Burns voice. Oh my goodness, did that make all of us laugh.

As we enter the holiday season, we can feel rushed, hurried, and frazzled, but this time of year is supposed to be joyous, festive, and a time of kindness. I thought my son’s insights were spot on when he enlightened me that we all have a little Mr. Burns in us. We do. Especially when times are stressful (particularly this time of year), or we just want things to go a certain way (our way?).  It’s up to us what we do with it.

How do are you handling the busyness of the season? How do you handle stress (and perhaps your inner-Mr. Burns) during this time of year?

 

Grateful

What are you thankful for?

I practice being grateful daily. Not because I have to, but because I learned a long time ago I have a lot to be thankful for and when I acknowledge it, even in the littlest of moments, it makes me feel better.

I have worked to instill this practice in my sons. I point out the beauty around us, comment on our blessings (food on the table, warm beds to sleep in), and have taught them to give thanks for all the things in our lives at meals — it’s common for my boys to give thanks for what’s top-of-mind: they’ve given thanks for Lego, candy, napkins and anything in eyesight that catches their attention. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day.

We love Thanksgiving in our house, but thankfully it’s not the single time of year we pause to give thanks. I recently found an old art project one of my sons — a turkey’s body made by the shape of his hand. He colored the turkey, put a pilgrim hat on it and wrote the turkey saying, “Happy Thanksgiving!” (ironic, eh?). 🙂 I’m thankful I still have this piece of artwork, and the memories that come with it.

There is much to be grateful for.

What are you grateful for?

I will be off to celebrate the holidays with family and will return in December. Happy Thanksgiving!

Leaving the Pitch — Slowly but Surely

My son has decided he no longer wants to play soccer.

It saddens me for a few reasons:

  • He’s played since he was three, and it’s been a joy to watch him grow while playing the sport. When he was young, scoring goals was all that mattered to him. As he grew, he no longer cared if he scored goals. He was more interested in defending the ball on the pitch, or blocking shots as the goalie.
  • He’s had great coaches along the way. He’s been particularly lucky to play with the same coach for the last five years. The coach loves the game and genuinely cares about the kids. This coach reminded me of how it takes a village to raise our children, and this coach will forever be ‘one of our village.’ It saddens me to think my son won’t continue to learn from him going forward.
  • I’m reminded that change is inevitable. Many kids start to figure out what activities they’re interested in at my son’s age. My son has shown us signs that his interest in soccer has been waning. I’m aware that another milestone is passing, my son is growing, becoming more independent, more self-aware, more confident in who he is and what he wants to experience in life.
  • I’ll miss the other parents, and the comradery. I’ll miss the cheers, the wins and loses, and watching the kids grow together. There will be other sports and other opportunities for us to connect, but this special moment-in-time is coming to an end.

My son is leaving the pitch. While I’m flooded with memories and emotions of sadness and nostalgia, my son is filled with excitement — he is at peace with his decision. He’s ready to move on. And so am I…slowly but surely.

How do you experience change when it happens in your child’s life?

 

 

Raising a Man

 

How are you raising your child to become the adult you want them to be?

I grew up with sisters and am learning about raising boys in real-time. Boys were always a puzzle to me growing up. They could be caring and kind, and then aggressive, dismissive and cruel. What makes them act this way?, I’ve often thought. I’ve heard throughout my life (both as a child, teen and now parent), “It’s easier to raise boys than it is girls.” This never made sense to me. The beauty of girls is that we are allowed to have emotions.  And while there may be room for improving how we experience or work through our emotions, we are not conditioned to hide or repress them. Boys don’t often tell you what’s going on. My oldest son talks to my husband and I and is pretty open about what’s going on — yet he too really struggles to understand the emotion(s) he is feeling and what’s causing them. He lumps them all into two categories: those that make me feel good, and those that make me feel bad.

Watching my sons grow, I am starting to see them exhibit those same confusing behaviors I saw from boys when I was growing up. Particularly from my oldest. He can be loving and kind, empathetic and thoughtful, and then on what seems like a turn-of-the-dime, he can be rude, dismissive and cruel — whether its to his classmates, friends, brother or my husband and I. Consequences seem to have minimal impact, it’s almost like he can’t help himself. My biggest concern as I watch him grow is what kind of man he will be. I want to believe that what my husband and I are teaching him the ‘right’ things: appreciating diversity, equality, and what you have, being kind to one another, and sharing your gifts with others. He’s for equality, diversity, fairness, and taking care of the planet, yet I see him struggling with being kind. He often directs feeling of negativity towards his younger brother, or us. I understand the desire to vent to those that you know will still love you and be there for you, but it’s draining on my husband and our patience and takes a toll on his younger brother. He shared what he deemed a ‘good day’ that included playing volleyball well in P.E. (I’m good with this), and then watching a female classmate miss a shot and fall in a way that was ‘hilarious’ – “Mom, I couldn’t stop laughing,’ he said (I’m not good with this). I attempted to ask him how he thought the girl felt (I’m sure embarrassed) and he acted as though I were purposely trying to be a killjoy. “Mom, I said I had a good day.” and he immediately ended the conversation.

I want my child to be happy, but not at the expense of others. Particularly not at a women’s expense. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because overt sexism and misogyny are finally getting the exposure we women have needed to change what is ‘acceptable’ behavior. I feel like I’m at a pivotal point in my son’s maturing and need to ‘up’ my parenting skills a notch to ensure we’re guiding him down a path toward manhood that he’ll one day be proud of. I want him to be kind to others. I want him to see the benefit — not only to others to how he’ll feel. I don’t know how else to do that then exhibiting the behavior myself, and getting him to think (rethink) how he interacts with others.

What challenges are you facing in helping your child to grow to be the adult you hope they will be? How are you helping your child?

 

 

 

 

Costumes You Can’t Buy on Amazon

What’s the Halloween costume you’ve worn or made that you’re most proud of and why?

Growing up, I often struggled with what to be for Halloween. As an adult, I wish I could say I was creative with my costumes when I was younger, but my memory tells me otherwise. I was a ballerina one year (not because I fancied being one, but because I already had the outfit from ballet class), a princess or fairy (I recall wearing a blue dress that I loved) another, a funny man one year (I dressed like this because my parents had a silly mask that consisted of glasses with a big nose and a mustache. My dad lent me a hat and a coat that were too big to go along with the outfit. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a funny man, but because we couldn’t come up with anything else), and there may have been a cat or mouse in the mix. My costumes for the most part had little imagination and were pretty uninspired.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up with homemade costumes. One year, he and his brothers went as the Fruit of the Loom guys. I was impressed! I wanted my kids to have memories of better, more inspired costumes. For each of my sons first Halloweens, I put them in white onesies, black pants, used a red oversized scarf and tied it around their waist and put a pirate hat on their head. It was super simple, and easy to take on/off (changing diapers and clothes was a synch). They liked reading the Frog and Toad books, so one year they went as Frog and Toad. I thought, ‘What can I do that’s easy?‘ Inspiration hit me again — I went to Goodwill and found clothes similar to what Frog and Toad would wear. Then I got them wool hats, added two large white puff balls on each cap adorned with small crescent-shaped pieces of black felt (with stick-on back) for the eyes. The kids could take off the hat whenever they wanted — and didn’t seem to mind when we kept asking them to pose together for pictures. 🙂 There were several years where a store came to the rescue. I did attempt to add to the costume. My youngest was a spider one year. He loved jumping with excitement, so I decided he wouldn’t be a regular spider but instead a jumping spider. I set out to make him a spider web on cardboard and use silver glitter for the web, and spelled Jumping Spider (Charlotte’s Web inspiration) in the web. My son loved the spider costume, but not the web. Of course that is what I’d worked on for more time than I’d like to admit. I had attempted to use elastic arm bands so my son could wear the web. My son thought they were really uncomfortable. I got him to wear the web for maybe a minute. Oh well. We’ve had more and less inspired over the years. Some were things the kids loved (Lightning McQueen) or interested in (Ninja, Star Wars), but this year my youngest had a more unique request.

He has had a love of geography that has grown over the last year. He has numerous books on maps, and atlases. When I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween this year, he said, “a map!” I loved his inspiration but wondered, how am I going to help pull this one off? I found some costume ideas for ‘the world’ online, including globes, but my son was clear “I don’t want to be a globe of the world, I want to be a map.” I came up empty on Amazon. It was clear. There was not going to be a ‘store-to-the-rescue’ kind of costume. I was going to have to put on my creative thinking cap and figure out how we were going to pull off this costume. I ended up finding fabric that’s pattern was a map of the world (and a yard in length — perfect). Then I thought, can I find him a fun ‘worldly’ hat? Or something that looks ‘international’? I went to a costume store and found him a German hat (green with red feather), and a table decoration with flags from around the world. I thought, ‘we’ve got enough for a costume!‘ I didn’t know how it was going to come together, but knew we could figure it out. I got some material for backing for the map fabric, and with my sister’s help, we transformed the map material into a cape of sorts (more like a wrap, but it works). Donned with his hat and flags, we had a costume. I asked my son, “So, what are we going to say your costume is?” Before he could respond, I said, “Oh, I know you’ll be a Man of the World. That means you’re well-traveled and know a lot about the world.” My son quickly responded, “Mom, I’m not a man of the world, I’m a FAN of the world.” He was right, and I couldn’t help but smile.

There is no greater joy then seeing your child be inspired. To see them envision what they want to be — even if it’s just for Halloween.

What does your child want to be this Halloween? How are you helping them achieve their vision for who they want to be?

Fall Inspired

Did you know you can order a frappucino with no coffee in it? Now you might be thinking what’s the point, and I would agree, except my oldest son is hooked on Pumpkin Spice frappucinos. 

It started innocently enough over the summer when we were with family and someone ordered an extra s’mores frappucino and had no one to take it. The drink looks enough like a shake that my son said,  “I’ll try it.” After one gulp he was a fan. 

Since the Fall-Inspired drinks have come out he’s been eager to make a pilgrimage, at least once a week, to get one (Starbucks will substitute cream for the espresso — that was my son and my’s compromise). My boys started talking in the car on a recent evening about the drink and the inspiration for it. My youngest hasn’t had one and isn’t interested. Instead he shared he likes Halloween-Inspired drinks. “Like what?” his older brother asked. “I don’t know,” he pondered for a moment, “like cider, I guess.” “That’s not Halloween-Inspired,” said his brother, “it’s Fall-Inspired too!” I have to admit it was amusing to listen to them argue the merits of Fall-Inspired vs. Halloween-Inspired for a few minutes. Their conversation reminded me of the smells, looks, tastes and experience we associate with each season. Fall, in particular. What’s not to like?

I like that my boys are picking up on the senses of the season too. Regardless if it’s Fall or Halloween-Inspired.

What do you and your child like most about the season?

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?

When Prayers and Thoughts Aren’t Enough

How did you talk to your child about what happened in Las Vegas?

What happened was terrifying. Unimaginable. Sad. And so very, very disappointing. I struggled to find the words to share with my boys. I decided to let them know that a lot of people were killed and injured in Las Vegas and they weren’t sure why the gunman did it. I let them ask the questions from there.

I struggle why we as a country can’t address this issue. I struggle why we, as parents, can’t band more together in an effort to address this, for no other reason then allowing our kids to grow up in a safer environment. Every time we don’t address this we are saying gun laws as they are are sufficient. Do they feel sufficient to you? They don’t to me.

My kids ask why gun laws aren’t better? Why there isn’t a national registry? Why aren’t more people outraged by this and demanding action?

I tell them that a majority of people want better gun laws but don’t know how to make it happen. I know I feel, at times, hopeless to make change. It’s obvious we need better gun laws and better protections for all of our citizens, yet those in power — that ultimately can do something about it — aren’t. And when my kids ask, “Why?” I tell them that the people in charge are more interested in staying in power than protecting the people. They hide behind the Second Amendment as if our Founding Fathers intended it to allow people to not only bare arms for protection, but let anyone who feels like firing a gun to do so. It’s ridiculous.

Each time we go through one of these traumas we hear from our leaders, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.” And while this is an appropriate sentiment, it’s a pretty empty statement coming from those in charge who actually have the power to do something about it. I’d rather hear, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and we’re taking action to ensure this never happens again.”

I’m mad. I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. And I’m more than angry that I can’t do a darn thing to better protect my family. There feels like there is no safe place anymore. I can’t live my life in fear and don’t want my kids to. But how do you do that when the people who are supposed to protect you, refuse to take the steps needed to?

How are you talking to your child about what happened in Las Vegas? If you are as upset as I am, how are you letting your voice be hard, and your leaders know?

Following are some of the groups that are trying to help us address this (click on the name to go to their site). To them I say, “THANK YOU!”

Sandy Hook Promise

Moms Demand Action

Parents Against Gun Violence

Every Town for Gun Safety

 

 

 

Dealing with the Consequence

How do you handle discipline?

Some days I wish I were a stricter parent. That way when I’m handing out a consequence to my child, I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable about it.

My oldest continues to adjust to middle school. Some days are good, others not so much. He had a bad day this week and decided to direct his displeasure at me. I talked to him calmly (as I always try to do with my kids) and asked him to take a breath, calm down, think about what you’re saying to no avail. I then went into warning mode — “if you can’t calm down and stop this behavior you are going to go straight to bed when we get home,” (mind you it was not much after 5 p.m.). I didn’t want to send him to his room but his behavior needed a consequence. He challenged me. “No you’re not. You’re going to come in my room, talk to me, and then I’m going to get out of my room.” Whoa, I thought, my son is right. I normally do talk to him about his behavior and do back off the consequence — he still has one, but it’s not as extreme as the first. I decided in that moment that I had to stay firm to the consequence I’d handed him. I wasn’t doing him any favors by letting him off the hook. “Not this time. You’re staying in your room and that’s that,” I said. I didn’t get an “I hate you” which surprised me, though I wouldn’t doubt he was thinking it. Instead I got a “this is stupid” which is what he says when he struggles with something or has a different view from someone else. “It’s not stupid. It’s necessary,” I continued, “the point of a consequence is so you learn from it, and hopefully don’t repeat the behavior again.” “Well, I’m going to do this again,” my son claimed. “Well, then I guess you’re going to have to get used to being in your room,” I concluded, “I always hated being in my room, I thought it was really boring, and when my parents handed me that consequence I usually learned from it, and I hope you do too.” He groaned and huffed off.

When we got home he dropped his back and went to his room. He slammed the door for affect. I didn’t go in and talk with him. I just let him sit. After an hour he said, “Okay, I get it, I’m grounded!” I didn’t respond. Just let him sit.

It’s not easy to let my child suffer the consequence of their actions, but its needed. When I don’t enforce the consequence I’m telling him he can get out of things or won’t be held accountable, and I fully expect that out in the world others will hold him accountable.

How do you handle giving your child a consequence when it makes you uncomfortable? How are you keeping your child accountable?