A Sign of Support

The situation in Ukraine is terrible. The bravery the citizens are showing is inspiring. Trying to imagine what it must feel like to be in the situation is impossible. It must be terrifying, stressful, exhausting, and so much more.

My boys are much more aware of politics and what is going on in the world than I was at their age. We discussed what was happening in Ukraine at dinner, and wondered what we could do to help. It can feel hopeless when you are far away and removed from the situation. We talked about how we could show support, and how we could donate to relief organizations. We talked about why one leader would inflict so much pain on so many, with no regard for the damage he’s doing to innocent people (in Ukraine and Russia), their lives, livelihood, and countries. We talked about the beauty of so many around the world being united against the invasion. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was a needed one. War is ugly, and no one wins in war.

Following our conversation, our youngest being into geography, insisted we get a Ukrainian flag using his own money. We agreed and now have it hanging in our window as a sign of support. He knows he doesn’t have the means to contribute any significant amount, but knew a visible sign of support had to mean something.

How do you talk to your child about bad things that happen in the world? What signs of support have you and your family taken for others are in need?

Holiday Rush

The holidays are a joyous, but busy season, right?

Trying to get shopping done, decorations up, wrapping gifts, traveling to see friends, family, Christmas lights, etc. Throw in work or school activities and commitments, and it can get to be a bit overwhelming at times, at least in our house.

During a particularly busy week at work, my husband, who was traveling on a last minute trip, shared we had tickets to a comedy show that had been rescheduled multiple times due to the pandemic. The show would happen while he was still away. They had been a gift for me, so he really wanted me to go. Normally I’d be excited, but this came up suddenly. I was already stressed with work and everything else going on, and didn’t feel up for going. My husband pushed. “You could use a laugh, take a friend or one of the kids.” He was right, but it still left like ‘one more thing’ I needed to get done. I inquired with a small handful of friends and none were available. I asked my boys and my oldest agreed to go. He was excited, I think by the prospect of doing something more adult, not necessarily hanging out with his mom. 😊

It was a flurry of activity leading up to us getting to the show. My mind was going a mile a minute with things still left to be done over the week and upcoming weekend. I caught sight of my son next to be and my inner voice said pretty loudly ‘be in the moment — the work, activities, commitments, etc., will all still be there — your son is with you now, this is special, pay attention.’ The voice helped me let go of much of the stress I’d been carrying around. I looked at my son again and focused on being present. What a gift! Simply focusing, and I mean focusing with intention, let all my worries slip away for the rest of the evening.

The holidays are hectic and stressful. Given this, what are your favorite things to do during the season with your child, and how do you stay present during these special moments?

Happy Holidays! I’ll be off for the next few weeks with friends and family and will be back in January.

Anxiety, Stress, and Gratefulness

What sums up 2020 for you and your family?

For us, it’s been anxiety, stress, and gratefulness.

Anxiety – the virus turning into a global pandemic reminded me of when I first became a parent. What is happening? How do I get myself through this? How do I help my sons get through this? Time shifted. It slowed much like it did when my sons were newborns, not knowing what each new day would bring, and bracing myself as I learned and adjusted.

Stress – much like giving birth trying to figure out how to survive — what we were seeing on the news, schools shutting down, work going remote, isolation, boredom, not knowing, toxic politics, people suffering, inequality and injustice, and longevity of the situation setting in — could be overwhelming and feel like you were surviving a trauma over and over. Putting one foot in front of the other to make it through the day could be challenging, but you put on your survivor face cause you had kids that needed to know everything would be okay, even when you didn’t.

Gratefulness – nature and our cat have been lifelines for us this year. Simple things — a sunny day, a rainbow, petting our cat (or simply watching him play, run, or hunt), brought us great joy. Virtual dinner parties, friends reaching out to check in, our boys finding ways to physically distance but still be with their friends, are things we are grateful for. Our health. Masks. People taking the virus seriously. All things we are thankful for. A vaccine, maybe two, coming, hallelujah! Time picking back up, adjusting to our new normal, being healthy. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

What sums up 2020 for you and your family? What are you grateful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be off next week, but back in December.

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?

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?

‘Tis the Season

What time of year is most stressful for you?

For many, the holiday season brings stress with it, but my stress starts earlier in the year and peaks around this time — like a roller coaster with the biggest hill at the end.

January usually brings changes at work which require an adjustment — it’s common for me to have to tell myself at some point during the month, “calm down, you’re going to figure this out.” And I do. Just around the time I’m acclimated to the changed there are school activities, events, volunteers needed, vacations to plan, and again it culminates to what feels like a fever pitch, and then school is out, and the stress lowers. Then vacation comes, and the break is welcomed and rest is enjoyed. Recharging is the goal. Then school starts again, there is planning, figuring out logistics, getting used to a new schedule, new teachers, new activities, new places we have to be at new times. Then we adjust, and the stress lowers. Then it picks back up with all the things that come rapid fire starting in October and goes through the end of the year — Halloween, birthday parties, family visiting, getting the photo album together, getting the holiday card written and sent, scheduling holiday parties, making plans with friends, getting the house ready for Christmas, shopping, and the list goes on and on.

I knew I was overly stressed when I received a reminder call of an upcoming appointment. I was certain the person had the wrong date. “I was just there two or three weeks ago.” I rescheduled the appointment pushing it a month out. It was only when I paused to really think about it (the next day) that i realized it had been closer to six weeks since I had gone in, and I was in fact due for an appointment. Where did the time go? I thought.

No one is making me do any of these things. This is my doing. I want my children to have certain experiences (parties, holidays, vacations, etc.). I want to capture the memories and make sure I’m not getting behind (cause that would stress me out even more). But I realize I am close to burn out and desperately need a vacation. Time off is just around the corner so I’m just trying to power through until I get there. My guess is many of us are in the same boat.

How do you handle stress as a parent throughout the year? How do you navigate stress during this time of year?

Dreams

Have your dreams changed since having kids?

When I was pregnant, and when the kids were young, I’d dream about not being able to find them, or not be able to get to them. It was always a relief when I awakened to find it was only a dream and the kids were safe.

As the kids have grown, and as their activities have increased, so have my responsibilities. I’ve noticed my dreams have changed too. They’ve morphed from not finding my kids, to not being about to find things (my car, a person, where I need to go), running late, behind (or fear I’m running late or behind), and waking up relieved that it was only a dream. The dreams tend to be circular. I’m not sure how long they actually last, but they feel endless while I’m having them — always in search of something unattainable (finding what I was looking for, getting to the destination, etc.). I don’t have these dreams all the time, but more frequently than any others I can remember.

My youngest son and I were sharing strange dreams we’d had. His was silly and we laughed about his dream. I shared mine and how I couldn’t find what I was looking for. His demeanor changed as I shared my dream, and he asked in a concerned tone, “Are you under a lot of stress?” Wow, that’s pretty insightful for an eleven year-old I thought. “Maybe,” I replied, “But no more than usual.” “Well, it sounds like you’re more stressed than you realize to me,” he finished. Okay, I thought, he may be on to something. I decided I needed to consider how much I was juggling and figure out how to lessen my stress. Thank goodness my son happened to have a dream he was willing to share with me, and got me to think more about what my dream might be telling me.

Do you have a recurring dream(s) that are trying to tell you something? Have your dream(s) changed since having your child?

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

What makes your child uncomfortable?

A teacher of my youngest shared that my son was becoming anxious about moving to middle school in the Fall. My son had shared this information with them, and they wanted to make sure my husband and I were aware.

One evening, after we’d had time to get home, eat and decompress for a while, I let my son know that I’d heard he was anxious about the future and wanted to better understand his concern. “What are you most concerned about?” I asked. He put both hands to his forehead. “Well everything!” He paused. “I feel like I’m not going to do well in middle school. 5th grade is harder than 4th.” I could tell by the look on his face he was feeling stress about how he’d navigate the new upcoming unfamiliar territory. He continued, “I do okay in school, but I get bored a lot.” I asked, “Is that because school isn’t challenging enough?” He scoffed, “No, Mom, it’s definitely challenging enough. It’s just I have to learn all this stuff.” I felt like I could almost read his mind, so I offered, “and you’d enjoy it more if they were teaching you about things you were more interested in?” “Yes!” he said. His face relaxed from what I took to be relief at being understood. I asked my son, “Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘a means to an end’?” He shook his head no.”Well, there are some things you have to do in order to get something else. If you want to go to college one day, they’ll expect you to graduate from high school with a degree. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it and do it well to go. You could think of going to school as a means to an end.” He seemed to ponder this for a minute. “But it makes me really uncomfortable thinking about all the work I’ll have to do. How will I figure it out?” I reminded him that he’s only in 5th grade. “What is the point of teachers, aides, parents, etc.? We are all here to help. The unknown can feel scary, and can make you uncomfortable but there are lots of people ready to help you along the way, okay? Life can make us uncomfortable sometimes it’s getting to a place where you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, does that make sense?,” I asked. “Yea, I think so,” he said, “thanks, Mom.” I could tell at this point he was ready to get back to screen time so we ended our talk.

The future can be scary, and make you anxious or uncomfortable, that’s normal. I’ve experienced it as an adult — when I became a parent, when my job responsibilities changed, when I wrote my book and started doing public speaking for example — but I knew if I wanted to achieve goals in life, I needed to embrace the discomfort and knew the best way to lessen the discomfort was with experience.

I feel discomfort when my child comes to me with problems I don’t know how to solve. I guess that’s just life, but I’m glad my child is willing to open up to me. We’ll work through our respective discomfort together.

How you help your child deal with anxiety, stress or discomfort?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. 😊 We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?