Thanks, Coach!

Have you ever struggled to get better at something you thought you should already be good at?

I have, and it’s no fun, whether it’s struggling to do a new task at work, or unsure of how to handle a new childrearing situation. I catch myself thinking why don’t I know how to do this? and because it’s easy to convince yourself that no one else is sharing your struggle to think is something wrong with me?

I saw my son experience this very struggle with his new soccer team. While he understands the fundamentals of the team, learning strategy for how to move around other players and the rules on the field are still something new to him. He became frustrated in a practice and the coach came over to talk to him. My son expressed his disappointment in his lack of knowledge and ability to execute what he was being asked to do. This came in the form of an emotional outburst that was a culmination of his frustration. The coach wasn’t having any of it. He told my son to listen to what he was saying or get off the field. My son promptly walked off the field.

As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child struggle with something. While part of me wanted to go and talk to him about what I just witnessed, it felt like this was something I needed to let the coach handle for the time being. I didn’t want to undermine the point he was trying to make, and I didn’t want my son to think I thought he was failing or not doing things right. I could already see he was really disappointed and down on himself. I could almost hear what he was thinking, why can’t I do this? Why isn’t this coming more naturally? What’s wrong with me?

The coach waited a few minutes and then came over to my son who was close enough for me to overhear the conversation (but not right next to me). The coach asked him why he was sitting on the sidelines. My son replied, “Because I’m terrible and can’t do the drill right!” The coach bent down so he could get eye-to-eye with him and explained, “You’re a kid. You’re job is to learn. To get better at something you have to practice. Do you think Rinaldi never practiced? He practiced all the time. You’ve got to practice to get good at anything,” he continued, “My job is to show you what you need to do, and when I see you not doing something right, it’s my job to show you a better or different way.” He finished, “You’re not terrible, but you won’t know that unless you get back in there and try.” My son seemed to take his words to heart, but wasn’t convinced. The coach then added, “if you don’t practice, you don’t play in the game,” which was enough to get my son back on the field.

The coach and I made eye-contact and he mouthed, “I got this.” And sure enough he did. My son listened more carefully throughout the remainder of practice and even scored a goal towards the end of the practice game. You could see his confidence grow. His expression reminded me of my own experience when I’ve learned something I’ve struggled with, finally getting over the hump and realizing I can do this. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. It feels great.

I’m thankful that the coach helped my son through his challenge. Not all coaches would have done that, but in my opinion, the good ones do. Struggles are going to happen, and as much as we’d like to help our child, it will sometimes fall to a coach, teacher, leader or a friend’s parent that they respect. As much as I am present with my child, others being present–really seeing my child and helping them see their own potential–will be a big part of his experience growing up. I’m thankful for those who have already played this role, and those that will in the future. Thank you!

Who helps your child work through things they struggle with? Who is a mentor or role model for your child?

On Father’s Day

I never knew my grandfathers. Both passed away before I was born. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a grandfather. Someone to be a male role model and teach me things with unconditional love.

When I moved to the northwest, I met a very nice older couple who I became close with. Ken, the husband, became the closest thing I had to a grandfather. I would often see him and his wife, Ellie, on Sunday mornings. He would always greet you with a big smile on his face, genuinely glad to see you. After greeting me on one Sunday Ken said, “Boy, we just think you’re just great.” What an amazing gift. It didn’t matter to me that I was grown up I soaked up his affection like a sponge. It was the unconditional love I imagined I would have experienced if my own grandfathers had had the opportunity to meet and spend time with me. I was in awe that Ken felt this way, and had the courage to voice it to someone who wasn’t even a family member.  Ken was a model for me about how we should treat each other, and how anyone has the ability to touch another’s life.

I am grateful that I have my father still and my boys have both their grandfathers. I am captivated when watching them interact. Games of catch, fishing from the dock or seeing them watch a game together have a greater significance to me.

I’m grateful for the time I had with Ken. He passed away in recent years, but he made a lasting impression.  Most fathers (and grandfathers) do.

To all the dads making a positive lasting impression, thank you, and happy Father’s Day.

Mother Bear

My boys wanted to see the Disney Nature film Bears that is playing in theaters now. The movie follows a mother bear and her two cubs during their first year of life. There is a scene where the mother and her cubs meet other bears in a field. It is the first time the cubs have ever seen other bears. The narrator focuses in on the male cub, Scout, and how he may be trying to determine who his adult role model should be in the field. The narrator continues by covering the various male types there–the dominant bear, the strongest bear, most persistent, disinterested, etc. The narrator doesn’t answer who Scout selects, but leaves it with the viewer to try to determine.

Throughout the movie, the bears incur many struggles–trying to get food, fighting off other animals and sometimes fighting off other bears. It is a difficult journey they make. The mother bear is a mix of what I think most of us, as mothers would want to be. She’s tough when needed, protective, loving and determined to teach her children not only how to survive but to thrive. She is a role model for us all, and as it turns out, she was the role model Scout had been looking for in the field earlier in the movie. As the narrator explains, he didn’t have to look far for his role model because his mother had been right by his side all along.

As a mother, many of us desire to be that same role model for our child. It can sometimes seem difficult or challenging, but knowing how important our job of being a mom is, we keep at it determined to do the best job we can.

Who was your role model growing up? How are you being a role model for your child?

To all the moms out there–Happy Mother’s Day.

Charlotte’s Web

We just finished reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. It’s about the unlikely friendship and life of a spider and a pig. While the book centers on the relationship between the animals, its parallels to human relationships made me appreciate the book even more as I read it to my children.

The book was a good reminder that friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Its about getting past someone’s exterior and seeing who they really are, but it goes further. It includes accepting and appreciating someone as they are. It’s about being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be loved. What a great message for my boys to get. I’m not sure they fully understand the significance in the message the story was telling, but they understand that friendship can be strong, and includes caring and sometimes sacrifice.

In the story, Charlotte is thoughtful, creative, caring, brave and selfless. She is a rare find. A true friend always is. As my children navigate relationships, and how friendship works (or how it should), I’m glad stories like Charlotte’s Web exist. It’s good for my children to hear how friendship can be from someone other than my husband and I.

What true friends are you grateful to have in your life? How are you helping your child navigate relationships?

For Fathers and Men Alike

My sons and I were discussing this past week how to honor their father and my husband today. I asked them what we should make Dad for breakfast. My oldest replied, “We should give Dad doughnuts,” to which I asked “why? Doughnuts are your favorite, not Dad’s.” My son thought for a minute and stated very firmly, “Well, Father’s Day is really man’s day. And we want doughnuts.”

I couldn’t help but smile he had such conviction in his belief. “When did Father’s Day become Man’s Day?” I asked. “I don’t know,” my son replied, “but I know all men become fathers so we should honor all men too.” I realized I could tell my son that not all men will be fathers, or inquire in why we hadn’t celebrated all women on Mother’s Day, but decided that should wait until he is a bit older.

My son did raise a good point. Through a child’s eyes any adult can be a parent. And being a parent entails being a role model. And if that’s how a child sees us, then we all are role models, regardless if we have children of our own or not.

As we honor all the fathers, grandfathers and men who are or have been role models in our lives, I think about the contribution my father made in making me who I am.

Thank you to my father, my husband, and all the men out there who are making a positive difference in our children’s lives. Your presence, involvement and desire to be successful, as a parent, means more than you know.

As we served breakfast this morning, my husband got pancakes and bacon, and a few mini doughnuts. I decided the doughnuts should symbolize unity between my husband and his boys, and the power of a strong male role model.

Happy Father’s Day!

Driver’s Test

I was driving to work one day when it happened. I was near a tunnel entrance and decided to change lanes. I put my blinker on, checked my mirrors, looked over my left shoulder to make sure I had plenty of room, and then moved over. The car I pulled in front of clearly did not like my decision to change into their lane. They weren’t going especially fast prior to me changing lanes, and they didn’t run up on me, so how did I know they were upset? Because they threw on their high beams, and kept them on for the next three miles. The first chance to pass me, they did. They pulled up beside me and attempted to get my attention. I decided it would be best not to make eye contact, because I figured it would only make things worse. After the driver realized I wouldn’t take the bait, they sped off. I still have no idea what I did to provoke such a reaction.

I reflected on my decision to change lanes earlier. Had I done something wrong?  I had plenty of room to change lanes I checked a couple of times prior to moving over. What was I missing?

Then I thought I wonder what’s been happening with that other person today.  Did they have a rough night of sleep, or are they stressed out about a meeting, or did they get into an argument with a loved one before leaving?  I don’t know what caused them to get so upset, but I have to believe their mood didn’t have much to do with me. I think my lane change was their last straw.

I think about myself as a driver. While I like to think of myself as a calm and compassionate person most of the times, I must admit that gets tossed out the window when I get cut-off or have a bad encounter with another driver. I sometimes think is this some sort of test (of my patience)? It feels like I’m being purposely disrespected or dismissed, like the other person believes they are entitled, or that their needs or wants are more important than mine. And perhaps I’m onto something with this belief, but think it’s only a small part of it.

Prior to having children, I would mutter four-letter words under my breath or make hand gestures below the dashboard when I got in these situations.  It was my way of getting some of the frustration or anger out, without making the situation worse. Since having kids I’ve had to rethink my responses. Kids are constantly watching what we do. Sometimes when a drive does something I don’t like I’ll say, “Come on friend” to which my sons will ask, “who are you talking to? They’re not your friend?” I’ll explain that it helps mom calm down when she talks about someone as her friend. I’ll also try to explain what’s going on. “I’m frustrated because I want to get home and this person is holding us up. It’s not their fault, they might just be having a bad day.” Having this conversation with my kids requires me to practice patience, being aware of my actions and words, and using it to teach—not always easy to do.

I’m not sure how much I’m getting through to my kids, but I’m hoping that they are able to handle traffic a little bit better than I do when they get older. My sense is people will continue to cut each other off, and drivers will continue to get frustrated with one another.  I can’t control what others do, but I can certainly control my actions and prepare my children for how to deal with drivers when they encounter similar situations in the future.

Thank goodness they won’t be ready for their drivers licenses for many more years. I still have time.

How do you handle frustrating drivers?

A Big Thumbs Up!

I received a note from my son’s teacher a little over a week. It read, “You need to talk to your son about what using the middle finger means.” The note startled me. We don’t use “the middle finger” in our family and haven’t talked about it with our children because we haven’t had to to this point. I responded to the teacher’s letter to gain a better understanding of how the middle finger came up. Can you give me some context behind how my son used his middle finger? Was he using it as a gesture? Or was he copying someone else? The teacher replied, “He was pointing at something with his middle finger when one of his classmates said, “that means the “F” word”, to which your son replied, “what’s wrong with the word “finger”?” Oh, the fact that he said “finger” made me smile like I haven’t smiled in a while. I celebrated inside. Yes, I thought, he still doesn’t know what the “F” word is!

Regardless, my husband and I needed to explain what certain hand gestures mean. I wasn’t ready, nor do I anticipate being ready any time soon, to discuss four-letter-words with our kids. I know I can’t avoid this forever, but I want to delay it as long as possible. Instead we talked about the meaning of using different fingers.

Working with our son we determined the following:

  • A thumb(s) up means good job or I agree
  • Pointing your index finger means I’m talking about you (we cautioned that most people do not like to be pointed at) or I want you to look at what I’m pointing at (see what I see)
  • Using your middle finger means I’m really angry with you or I really don’t like what you just did (we cautioned that it is always better to talk to someone if you are upset with them and to avoid using your middle finger to express how you feel at all costs. My experience, you significantly increase your chances of a physical confrontation when you use your middle finger vs. your words)
  • Using your ring finger doesn’t mean anything
  • Using your pinky finger (e.g. holding it out when you drink from a cup) means fancy

My son really liked the idea of using your pinky to communicate fancy. He didn’t seem to be interested in using or talking about his middle finger at all.

I cherish my children’s innocence and appreciate the opportunity my husband and I have been given to help them learn about ways people communicate in nice and not-so-nice ways. I realize their innocence won’t last forever, but will take it for as long as I can.

F is quickly becoming my new favorite letter. What’s not to like – it’s the first letter in fabulous, Friday, fancy, fun and FINGER.

I’ll give that a “thumbs-up” any day!

How have you addressed gestures and curse words with your child?

Reaching Your Full Potential

My boys are big fans of Cartoon Network’s Ninjago. The story follows four ninja as they train, taught by their master Sensei Wu, in order to defeat the great Lord Garmadon. The Lego minifigures—Cole, Kai, Jay and Zane—was what first drew my sons in.  My husband and I have found there are actually some pretty good lessons Sensei Wu teaches his young apprentices in the series—to appreciate differences, appreciate what you have, and to work hard to reach your full potential.

As a parent, I certainly want my children to appreciate differences, appreciate what they have, and reach their full potential, but often think how do my husband and I do that?  For me, it starts with having a plan that captures what you want to teach your child (e.g., values, morals, beliefs, experiences, etc.). While my husband and I had similar upbringings (two parents, small town upbringing, etc.) we didn’t have identical ones. When I was pregnant we both thought about things we wanted to incorporate from our own upbringings and things we didn’t (I think this is common for many new parents or parents-to-be to do). We took it a step further and wrote down things we wanted to teach our children and things we didn’t independent of each other and then compared notes. That’s how we started our plan.

The plan is dynamic and will change as our children grow and as we grow as parents. It requires inspection—are our children learning appreciation, for example.  If so, how?  If not, what do we need to change?  Our busy lives can leave us a bit drained at the end of each day, and weekends can feel like “catch up” time for all the things we weren’t able to get to during the week.  I find that I have to carve out time to ensure I am able to evaluate, with my husband, how we are doing in our parenting journey. Most nights we find some time after the kids have gone down. It takes work, it takes thought and it takes commitment.

While I want my children to reach their full potential and appreciate their talents whether they come to them naturally or they work hard to gain them. I want to reach my full potential as an individual, and as their parent. It’s hard to conceive that achieving that goal is possible, but I’m not going to stop trying. Thankfully I don’t have to master my skills to defeat an evil dark lord, but I do need to master my skills gain confidence in myself, and in my parenting journey.

How are you helping your child reach their full potential?  How are you reaching yours?

And the Winner is…

My oldest son recently entered a drawing contest that was being held at my husband’s office. He drew a picture depicting what he thought my husband and his co-workers did each day. Last week we found out our son had been awarded the 1st place prize for his submission.  When my husband told our son the good news, our son showed a mixture of surprise and disbelief (I won?), and then the biggest smile came across his face. Cheers and hugs followed. We were very proud and excited he was acknowledged for his work.

Seeing my son’s reaction to winning the contest reminded me of the Oscars, and watching the winner take the stage to accept their statue exhibiting surprise and glee. The Oscars will be held later today and many of us will be eagerly watching to see who wins one of these prestigious awards. It’s easy to get taken in by the Oscars, the clothes, the jewelry, the glitter and celebrity. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

I think about the commitment, sacrifice and choices each actor has made to be nominated. Prior to having children, I would have told you I could dedicate myself and make any sacrifices needed for my career. After having children I could not say the same. I think regardless of the sacrifice and dedication we have for a job, be it a professional job, being a parent, volunteering, etc., we ultimately desire recognition for our work. We crave being told we’re doing a good job. It makes us feel good, it reinforces all the hard work we’ve done, and also helps inspire us to go on (Keep up the good work!).

While I wish I had the talent for acting that the nominees have, I realize that I don’t, and my chances of going to the Oscars are very low. I do, however, see parallels between the actors and me. We both have worked hard, and both hope to be recognized for our work.

In lieu of an Oscar, I’ll take a hug or an “I love you” from my kids as a job well done. As a parent, it’s all the recognition I need.

What makes you feel like you’ve won?

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.