Cutting Your Own Path

What reminds you that winter is over?

For me, it’s when the tulips and daffodils finally bloom. They are at full peak where I live and are a constant reminder that warmer weather is coming. This winter was bitter cold and gray. The sun and blooming colors is doing all of us well. There is nothing better than walking down a path or street that’s bursting with different colors. It’s quite glorious.

My sons know that winter is over when we go outside more, and this year the occasion was marked with their bike riding. My youngest has finally learned how to ride his bike to where he can really enjoy it. It was a struggle for him to learn — getting started was what tripped him up.  Getting started with any new task we are learning can trip us up, right?

I was talking to a friend who is going through a career change. She has struggled with cutting her own path (I think something many of us can relate to). It reminded me of how my son struggled to learn to ride. He convinced himself the path he needed to take to learn to ride was too unfamiliar, would take skills he didn’t have and couldn’t master. He was struggling with unfamiliar domain. I shared with her my passion for teaching my boys how to make their own way in the world and help show them how to cut their own path. It had made me think about how when you navigate something new, it’s like looking at an overgrown path littered with brush that you have to cut away. At first, hacking at the brush can be tough, unfamiliar and even scary, but after a while, you figure out how to do it and start getting better at making a clearing you can pass through.  When you emerge into the clearing you appreciate the path you’ve made and the place you’ve arrived. I’m not planning to take my children to the jungle or give them a machete to clear brush, but I do want them to know that they have it in them to get from the can’t (ride my bike) to the can (I did it!). Much like the seasons. You sometimes have to make your way through until you make it to the other side. It’s worth it, the scenery at the end is incredible.

How are you teaching your child to make their own way?

To Forget or to Fail?

Have you ever struggled to do something, and when you couldn’t figure it out you felt like you were a failure and worried about your abilities to do the task?

I’ve certainly experienced this, and my youngest son has experienced it too. It started with….the spelling test. Each week my son comes home with a list of words he needs to practice for his class’s spelling test. He copies the words on Monday and is supposed to practice them each night. We were studying before a Friday test, my husband and I trying to help him learn his words. He was getting confused by how to spell the words: ocean and motion, count and country. They sound like they should have similar spelling, but do not. Or are spelled similarly, but sound like they aren’t. My husband and I offered up a couple of tricks for how to remember the difference in how the words are spelled.  We had our son write the words down, we used the ‘flow’ of the letters (e.g. think about the letters trying to stay together in the water) to try to help him remember how to spell ocean. We had him hop on one foot and recite “t-i-o-n” (we thought it would be a fun way to get the letters stuck in his memory). You could see him trying so hard to remember how to spell the words. He was struggling and very frustrated that it was so hard for him. There were tears of frustration at one point. It was difficult to watch, and realize our efforts were not having the intended impact. After 30 minutes at this, we turned a corner, and he could spell each word. We decided he was as prepared as he was going to be for the test.

The following day, when our son got home from school, we asked how the spelling test went. “Okay,” our son replied. “Did you remember how to spell ‘ocean’ and ‘motion’?” I inquired. My son paused for a moment, his face got scrunched up and he said, “No, I forgot.” You could hear the disappointment in his voice. “I guess I failed,” he concluded. I was still processing what he said when my husband jumped in. “Does forgetting how to spell a word mean you failed?” My son looked at him confused…you could almost see his mind working to figure out how to answer this, questioning himself and thinking the right answer might be maybe? My husband jumped back in and answered it for him. “No, it doesn’t mean you failed. It means you forgot. People forget things all the time. You just have to keep practicing and eventually you’ll get it.” My son seemed a bit relieved. He took a breath and relaxed, he understood he wasn’t a failure because he couldn’t remember a few words. He had an opportunity, and the potential to be a great speller. Persistence, practice and not giving up on himself was all it would take.

It was a good lesson for my son, and a good reminder for myself. Even as an adult I sometimes get frustrated when I struggle to do something correctly the first time around even if it’s new to me (I’m an adult after all, aren’t we supposed to know how to do pretty much everything by now?). Yet, I know that’s not true. We all are learning all the time. We can be new to learning something at any age. We have to be easy on ourselves, understand where we are in the learning process, and keep at it until we get it. We have to model how to handle these struggles to our kids.

How do you handle and/or internalize your own struggles? What do they say about you? How does your child experience struggles? How do you help them see them in a different (and more positive) light?

Fruits of Your Labor

Our deck started to show some wear-and-tear over the summer. While the thought of delaying the project was appealing, the inevitability of replacing the deck sooner than later became apparent. My husband decided to take the task on, carefully determining what tools he would need, amount and size of the material, and came up with a plan to build the new deck.

After working on the project for several weeks, he was recently able to start laying down some of the boards. At the end of his second day we were admiring the job he had done so far. He shared that working on the project felt very rewarding because as he completed tasks, he could see the result of his work. He continued sharing that as a parent it’s not always easy to see the results of the foundation we are laying and knowing if what we’re trying to teach is working, and if we will ever be able to see tangible results. I stopped him there and said, “You just gave me my next blog entry!”

As parents, we often are looking for confirmation that we are doing a good job that we are doing right by our children and we’re teaching them, as we should. With the amount of judgment that goes on and everyone having an opinion, we can often feel like our parenting skills, no matter how thorough, how diligent or well intended, aren’t measuring up.

My sons and I were in a coffee shop recently getting a snack when my youngest had a meltdown. The food item he wanted was sold out, and nothing else would do. He quickly went from being excited to dismay to shouting and tears. As I worked to remain calm, my mind was racing with the thought why do you have to do this right now in public? Everyone must think I’m a terrible parent! I could feel anger simmering inside and knew nothing would quill him, and we would have to leave the store immediately. When I told my younger son we would have to leave without him getting anything to eat it only made him more upset. I was angry and embarrassed. He was angry and disappointed. Once we were outside, I asked my son how else we could have solved the problem. Him getting angry and upset only made us leave the shop. It didn’t get him what he wanted. I also reflected on myself, was there some other way I could have better handled that situation? I asked my son the question, “So, what do you think? Is there some other way we could have handled that? Sometimes places we go aren’t going to have what we want.” He seemed to consider this for a minute and then shared some problem-solving techniques he heard in school (Kelso’s Rules): take a break, talk about it, and take a deep breath. I stopped him there. “Those are good ideas,” I said. I also shared some insight with both my boys, “Sometimes Mom feels like she is being judged by others and it can make Mom feel embarrassed and angry. That’s Mom’s issue, not yours. I’m sorry I got angry.” It wasn’t fun to admit, but it felt good to be honest with my kids.

Like my husband pointed out, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full fruits of our labors of being parents. We won’t necessarily know if we are truly successful in fully teaching our children everything we’re trying to, but it feels good when you see a glimmer of your efforts sinking in, your children making choices that they feel good about, and instances where your child makes a decision that allows for a positive outcome.

How do handle situation where you feel like you’re being judged?

How are you experiencing the fruits of your labor?

I Don’t Want to Grow Up

Growing up isn’t easy. We tend to think of the difficulties of growing up as being a childhood challenge, but it afflicts adults as well.

My children recently watched the movie Peter Pan. Peter, Wendy, John and Michael’s adventures in Never Land really captured their attention. Peter Pan’s desire to never grow up really peaked their curiosity. You could almost see the words forming in their minds, is never growing up possible? They asked to watch the movie over and over again for weeks on end.

We recently took a family vacation (see my previous blog on road trip marketing toys). We agreed prior to going on our trip, that we would all travel to visit our family and then our oldest son would stay behind for a few days to have an adventure with his grandparents. Our son was excited. I can only imagine what he thought his adventure might include. While I knew he may fantasize that his adventures would be like Peter Pan’s, he knew there would no sword fighting or swashbuckling. Instead his adventure included learning new things like fishing, kayaking, hiking and enjoying the outdoors in a new environment.

The night before my husband, youngest son and I were due to leave I sat down with my son and talked about what would be happening in the upcoming days. He expressed that while he was excited for his adventure, he was sad too. He was going to miss us. I told him that we were going to miss him too. I explained that this was an opportunity for him to get to know his grandparents better and a chance for them to get to know him better. While they had watched his brother and him when they were younger they hadn’t had alone time with him. I told him that it was going to be an opportunity for all of us to be brave and that we’d all grow up a little bit from this.  My son would gain some maturity and confidence from being on his own, and my husband and I would gain some comfort in knowing that our son was blossoming outside of our immediate care. Our youngest wasn’t sure quite what he was going to gain for this experience. I explained, “You are going to get to grow up a little bit too. You’re going to get to spend some time with Mom and Dad one on one (something he’s never done before) and you’re going to see that you are okay on your own.” He replied, “I don’t want to grow up.” And while he wasn’t mimicking Peter Pan, I understood his sentiment. It’s hard to let something go that you love so much, whether it’s your childhood, your brother or leaving your child with his grandparents.

It was wonderful when our son returned home. It was a celebration. We learned a few things about each other on the trip. He traveled well with his grandparents, he picked up fishing and kayaking very quickly and he thrived being on his own. My husband, younger son and I grew too. We learned that while our nest won’t be empty for another decade or so, we have a taste for what it will be like. And while it will be sad when our boys are out of the house and on their own, it will be a celebration too. Of growing, gaining confidence and understanding that everything will be okay. We might not always look forward to opportunities that force us to grow up, but we were all a little bit better for experiencing them.

How do you help your child grow? How are you growing with them?

My Kids Went on a Road Trip and All They Got Were These Marketing Toys!

Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat book has some hilarious content that any parent can relate to. One chapter, “You Win, McDonalds” really struck home. My husband and I have often had discussions around the marketing of companies like McDonald’s and Legos. The marketing is so good it’s hard to fault either company with their success in these areas.

When we go on a road trip we almost always stop into at least one McDonald’s or one Cracker Barrel. We’ve tried other restaurants and McDonald’s wins out because of the happy meal and the cool toy they offer with it, and of course, most have a playground. And while we may not normally let our children go on the playground, mainly for time sake (though knowing they are not picking up any unknown germs is always reassuring) the fact that they have a playground screams “We Like Kids” to kids.  Cracker Barrel is a favorite, because you’ve got cool rocking chairs to hang out in on the porch (assuming you can find a free one) and you have to go through an awesome store in order to get to the restaurant. Everyone can find something they’d like to eat in the Cracker Barrel and can probably find something they wouldn’t mind buying too. To our kids Cracker Barrel screams “We Like Everyone!”

We recently went on a cross-country trip and spent many hours in the car. We inevitably hit a McDonald’s and a Cracker Barrel.  There were Happy Meals and miscellaneous knick-knacks purchased. And while the Happy Meal toy or the Cracker Barrel trinket may be easily forgotten, by our children they were part of good memories for all of us.

We went on a road trip. We drove hundreds of miles and survived with smiles on our faces. Success!

Corrective Lens and Seeing What’s Right in Front of Us

When I took my son into a doctor’s office, the doctor inquired what brought us there. I proceeded to share my concerns, what I thought was wrong with my son.  My son hadn’t been experiencing symptoms that required immediate medical intervention, but seemed behind in some of his fine motor skills, which concerned me.

Once I was done listing off all of my concerns, the doctor asked, “What does your son do well?” While I had easily listed off all the things I thought he was struggling with, it took me a while (probably a minute—but it felt like several) to answer to her question.

I realize both my children have many wonderful qualities and characteristics, but was reminded that human nature conditions us to look for what is wrong in one another. The doctor’s question forced me to think about what is right.

As I discussed what I’d learned with friends, I was reminded that we experience people differently when we look for what their strengths are, gifts are, or what they are good at vs. what is different about them, lacking or a deficiency. I thought about my children and how I experience them. If I’m being honest, as much as I’m amazed at their capabilities, I am also looking at behavior that needs to be corrected, areas that need to be learned or actions that need to be addressed.  With new eyes, much like corrective lens, I see my children in a new way. Each child has his own gifts, talents, and capabilities. They are a delight and a wonder to experience, some I experience more fully and gives me even more joy when I shed my need to find something within them that needs to be fixed. They are spectacular just the way they are. Why did it take me so long to see what was right in front of me?

I realize I will have to have an awareness of what lens I’m viewing my children with everyday.  My husband and I will need to continue to guide our children in their journey of becoming adults, but I suspect with my new vision there will be far fewer things I identify that need to be fixed and far more things I learn about the many gifts and talents my children possess.

I wish I had gotten these glasses a long time ago.

What does your child do well? How do you experience them everyday?

Easter Egg Hunt

My kids have really been looking forward to Easter. While I’d love to say its for the religious significance, its really all about the candy for them. They are looking forward to finding their baskets in the morning and doing an Easter Egg hunt later in the day. Easter to them is a day of seeking and finding big and little treasures.

I’m reminded of an Easter when I was a young child. We were in Florida visiting family and there was an Easter Egg hunt out in a large field. We were told there was one giant egg hidden. We figured this giant egg must be made of chocolate and not a hard boiled one, and all of the kids wanted to find it! I was armed with my Easter basket and ready to go. The countdown began–fivefour-three-two-one—GO! I raced alongside my cousins, sisters and friends across the field.

I found lots of eggs, but few ended up in my basket. My problem while I was great at visually finding them, I wasn’t very fast at picking them up, and the eggs kept getting scooped out from underneath me . I think one of my sisters may have just followed me around to get her bounty! I was good at seeking. She was good at securing! I was very frustrated.

I honestly can’t recall if I got any of those decorated hardboiled eggs. I was so disappointed and thought my empty Easter basket was a reflection on what a poor treasure hunter I was. Easter was supposed to be fun, an easy way to get candy, an easy day to feel good about plants blooming, the weather warming and life being good. But I didn’t feel good.  Embarrassed by my results I sulked over to where some of my older cousins were watching us. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. It wasn’t joy in my failure. It wasn’t a smirk or look of shared disappointment. It was empathy. They were looking at me when one said, “Tricia, you’re getting warmer.” I thought getting warmer? what are they talking about? After a few seconds, I understood. They were talking about the Giant Egg!  I walked a few steps forward. “You’re getting warmer,” they said again. I moved forward again, “colder,” I readjusted and went to the right, “warmer,” one more step, “hot!” I lifted a palmetto branch and lo and behold there was the giant egg!  Success, joy and overall happiness came pouring back in.

My cousins never let on that they helped me find the giant egg. Most people at the hunt hadn’t seen what happened. I was asked afterwards, “how did you know it was there?” and “what made you think to look under that palmetto bush, there are so many of them out here?” I just smiled and looked over, ever so subtly at my older cousins. They had my back. They felt for me and wanted me to have success. They encouraged me. But maybe what was most significant about their act was that they loved me. It was a simple gesture, but very powerful. I felt like the richest person there.

What treasures are you seeking this Easter? What treasures are you hoping your children will find?

Which Way are you Leaning?

What’s a mother to do? We give birth, we take our child home, we start to care for it, and then we are faced with the decision—to go back to work or not.  Of course, some of us will have decided prior to having our child that we won’t return to the workforce because we don’t want to, or financially it doesn’t make sense.  Some of us know we will return to work and it becomes an issue of how soon, and then there are the rest who are on the fence.

And here our quandary begins. Perhaps we’ve invested time in our careers and are making our way up the corporate ladder and want to continue our climb. Perhaps we have a profession we’re passionate about. Or perhaps we need the money, want continued contact with adults, or know that work gives a sense of purpose you haven’t found anywhere else.  You weigh the pros and cons of staying home with your child and not working (maybe temporarily, maybe permanently), and you weigh it and you weigh it and you weigh it. And while ultimately you go with the decision you feel is best you can’t quite shake that nagging voice in the back of your head. Am I taking something away from myself if I stay home? Am I taking something away from my child if I work?

And now the dialogue is no longer being kept to ourselves, or amongst our working mother friends. It’s being discussed out in the open. Oh goodness! Why Women Still Can’t Have it All by Anne-Marie Slaughter was published in the July/August 2012 edition of The Atlantic. Her article encouraged a dialogue between working women, to understand the obstacles women still face to reach the highest professional levels while raising children, and encouraged men, who are expressing a desire to be more involved in the raising of their children, to join in the situation.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, encourages women to be “at the table” professionally, take risks, and pursue your desired career. She also mentions men playing more of a role in the rearing of the child and household responsibilities.

I can understand why reactions to both the article and the book have been strong.  Each gave me pause. What do you mean women can’t have it all? And Lean In—I didn’t realize I was leaning out.  Do I really have to do more than what I’m already doing?

What really bothered me wasn’t the article, book or their content. It was the emotions they were triggering in me—guilt, anger, relief and hope.  Quite a range of emotions, don’t you think?  I still have guilt about putting both boys in daycare when they were young. I know I am a better mom than I would have been a stay home mom (I think stay-at-home moms are amazing), but it didn’t take the guilt away. I was angry because I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at in my career while fighting hard to maintain boundaries specific to the hours that I work and the time I spend away from the family because of it.  I felt relief because someone was finally talking about this—I’ve often felt alone in my daily struggle to do what’s best for my children, spouse and myself. Lastly, I felt hope. Hope that we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg and more conversations will take place between spouses, partners, companies and communities. That we will reach equality in the home and in the workforce, and as a country we’ll figure out how to better support families so that we not only can survive but also thrive together.

The question, “can women have it all?” makes me think should we want to have it all? and what does having it all mean? I think our kids should have it all—involved parents working for supportive companies and communities that value our future generation more than sustaining a culture of workaholics.

We’ve got some work to do, and I’m leaning towards whatever will get us there.

Which way are you leaning?

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?

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?