In Train-ing

How will you get to your holiday destination(s) this year?

Our youngest is a huge fan of public transit and rail. My husband first introduced our boys to riding the bus when they were younger to get around town for their activities. Our youngest learned to get to middle school via light rail and bus when he entered sixth grade. That’s when we think the bug hit. He loved transit, the paths it takes, how it moves people around with relative ease. He was hooked.

You can say he’s a bit of an expert as he spends hours researching about metro and light rail lines around the world. Our summer vacation we used public transportation most of the time because of him. He planned it out for us — where to go, what line to take, knew the time tables — it was impressive. For his birthday, he took his friends on the train to the next city over to explore and celebrate (thank goodness the teens fare was free!😊).

His comfort with transit, and love for it, is infectious. I rarely took public transit before my son became so enthralled. He’s helped even his old mom learn a new trick. 😄

When we plan trips or go anywhere using transit is now part of the equation. Pluses of transit — it saves you money (no airport or downtown parking), is less stressful (you don’t have to deal with traffic), and for our son gives him greater independence (replaces what a bike did for me in my childhood); downsides — sometimes it can be unpredictable (running behind) and riding with others.

While we have no near term plans to travel I know many do. While my son is bummed he’s not mapping out a journey for us, he’s continuing to learn as much as he can on light rail and other public transit around the world so he can guide us on future trips. You could say he’s in training for his future (whether it manifests into a job, or just remains a passion). He makes me see travel in a different way. Holiday travel doesn’t have to be running around to catch your flight, or stuck on the interstate with everyone else. You have another option, the train. Depending on your destination, it might take longer but with way less stress, interesting scenery, and an opportunity to actually enjoy the ride.

How will you get to your holiday gatherings? What would make your holiday travel with your child or teen less stressful?

I will be away next weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends and will return in December. Happy Thanksgiving!

Teen Travel

Oh, I should have seen this coming. Finally able to travel post pandemic-✔️, have itinerary-✔️, have tickets-✔️, have everything packed-✔️. Everyone excited (pause for effect) — sort of???

Three out of four of us were really excited about getting away for our vacation, except for my oldest. There were complaints at every turn. The flight is going to be too long. This is going to be so boring. I’m going to make sure you understand how much I’m not ‘feeling’ this. 😂😭😬

He earned the nickname ‘sour puss’ at one point in the trip because there was no pleasing him. For those of you who have children that are grateful and can find the joy in things, consider yourself fortunate. Our youngest is wired this way. Our oldest isn’t. We’re aware of his need to be more independent and not hang out with mom, dad, and his kid brother, but during our trip it got to a point we had to have an impromptu family meeting in a hotel room to address it.

As a human, I was angry, frustrated, and angry (yes, I meant to say it twice). The planning, and investment, and all the wonderful venues and activities we had lined up weren’t appreciated (which as a human I thought—what am I doing so wrong that I’m raising an ingrate?). In fact, we were getting a lot of ‘why do we have to do this?’, ‘this is dumb,’ etc. As a mom, I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and not say something I might regret. I was the adult and I needed to act like it, but it was so infuriating.

When my husband and I had some time alone, we discussed the situation. I can remember trips as a kid where we were going non-stop all the time and the trip seemed more like a chore (at times) than a vacation. I could relate to how my son was feeling, but still irked at his behavior.

We sat as a family and discussed how the trip was going. We discussed how when one person complains and acts like they don’t want to be there, it negatively impacts all of our experience. “Just because you aren’t having the best time, doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for the rest of us.” Ruin might have been a dramatic word to use, but it had the intended effect. I can’t say my son ‘snapped out of it’, but definitely tempered himself.

We gave him some free time to go on runs, or explore around the neighborhood where we were staying. He even got into finding energy drinks they don’t sell here to bring home to a friend. It became part of a game, where he’d find a convenient store near whatever touristy thing we were doing, and see if he could find a new beverage. It was a compromise, and for the most part it worked.

We’re planning another dream trip (one we’d hope to do many years ago, but we’re unable to) next year. While we’re well into the planning stage we’re asking our kids for more feedback and involvement in the planning so we can all have the best experience possible (if that is possible???😂😭😬).

For me, this trip was about having a once in a lifetime experience with my family. Was it a great trip?✔️ Did we see and do a lot of new things? ✔️ Was it all sunshine and rainbows – absolutely not. Did we learn more about each other and grow as a family? ✔️✔️✔️

How is traveling with your family? What resistance have you had from your child (or teen), and how did you address?

Change is Coming

Do you like change?

Change is often hard, right? Uncomfortable. Yet with vaccinations on the raise (hallelujah!) change is indeed coming. In the coming months we’ll be able to move about more freely, maybe even enjoy some of the things we’ve missed (other people, the movies!, eating out, etc.), yet there is one change no one in my house is super eager for. Going back to the work or school in the way we did pre-Covid.

I miss going places but am not super excited by the idea of resuming frequent business travel. My boys miss their classmates, but aren’t eager for seven hours + in school everyday.

Waking up early (earlier) to catch a flight, an added stress to ensure everyone and everything is cared for while I’m away (I know my husband and boys can handle anything that comes their way, but I’m still going to stress about it), being away. Ugh! Time is so precious. The pandemic taught us that if nothing else.

My oldest reflected on return to in-person school. “You mean I’ll have to go back five days a week and be there all day?” It made me smile. How quickly we adjust to new routines (he is online four hours a day for four days a week), right?

It will be interesting to see how things progress to whatever normal will be going forward.

I feel super fortunate for the extra time I’ve had with my family. I’m thrilled my boys will still experience school in the traditional sense (sports, clubs, dances, graduation). Assuming we exit this pandemic and don’t enter another anytime soon (can you imagine?).

Change is coming. It may be hard and uncomfortable but I know we’ll adjust. Just like we’ve always done.

What change is coming for you or your child? Are you looking forward to the change?

Up, Up, and Away

Does your child like to travel?

My oldest has anxiety when he travels — specifically to new locations. He isn’t worried about mechanical problems or turbulence, but the length of the flight, getting bored or uncomfortable in his seat, and worried about worst case scenarios when he reaches his final destination — it being unsafe, or getting lost, etc. Leading up to his most recent trip, he started showing signs of his anxiety in a number of ways — complaining “I don’t want to go”, getting angry “this is so dumb”, and muttering under his breathe “this is so stupid”. Keep in mind he’s 14, so these reactions are common when he experiences anxiety or discomfort regardless the situation.

My husband and I deployed multiple methods of working to help him work through his feelings in the days leading up to his departure. We had numerous talks, went on multiple walks. We reminded him that while he may be anxious about the unknown (and reassuring him that it’s normal to feel this way) that everything was going to be okay.

He and I talked the night before he left on his trip. I tried to get him to think about his fears in a different context. “How long, and potentially boring, the flight is going to be is a good problem to have,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “Think about it. There are kids whose family can’t afford to pay the rent, or struggle to put food on the table. To those kids, getting on a plane to go somewhere is a dream. The fact that you have this opportunity to see new places is a gift.” I could see, for a flicker of a moment, he understood what I was saying. He wasn’t done complaining or sharing his concerns with me, but I’m hopeful I got through to him and when his anxiety returns he can think of this is a larger context the problems that he’s experiencing are actually good ones to have, and instead enjoy the gift he’s being given.

How do you help you child when they have anxiety? How do you help them work through their feelings?

Road Trip

Do you enjoy traveling with your child?

I promised my son I would take him to my alma mater for a visit, and a football game a few years back. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off, as my alma mater is no where near where we live, but knew we’d figure it out. We decided this summer the game we’d go to this Fall, and bought tickets.

As we got closer to going on our trip, my son and I were reaching a point in our relationship where it felt strained. He is a teenager now, and changing. He is embarrassed easily, it is hard to understand how he is feeling and how to ‘appropriately’ respond, and he has taken up testing the boundaries of acceptable behavior (short hand — my child is embracing being rude). I looked at the upcoming trip as an opportunity for my son and I to hit the reset button. I wanted to reassess our relationship and figure out how I can better learn what’s going on with him and support him, coach him, mentor him, redirect him, versus getting upset with him. I was aware that too often I was going into “Mom” mode — where my son would do something ‘unacceptable’ and I would turn it into a teaching moment. I think my son was desperate from a break in the class. 🙂

We left on our trip. We got our car early in the morning and headed off for school. We had a long drive ahead of us. We listened to music, we talked, he slept a little bit. It was nice. I held my tongue anytime he said something I wanted to respond to — my teacher instinct is strong — I had to remind myself that for the sake of my son and my relationship I needed to give it a brief rest. We got to campus and walked around. The campus has changed significantly since I was there. I talked about what had changed, what had stayed the same, and he asked questions about how you schedule classes, how do you take the right classes needed to graduate (he was interested in learning about credit hours worked), and how you get from one class to another on time — the campus was spread out.

We were fortunate that I had reconnected with one of my favorite former professors that still teaches at the school before we came. He encouraged me to bring my son to listen to one of his lectures. We took him up on the offer, I was excited by the prospect of seeing my former professor teach again, and my son’s interest was peeked with the opportunity to sit in on a college class. During the lecture, the professor introduced us (it was an auditorium class that probably had 100 students in attendance). He went through his lecture and at one point, reflected on me as a student, the contributions I had made, the work I had done, how I interacted with my peers and how convinced he was even then that I would do well in life. It was one of those moments that, as a parent, you couldn’t have planned or hoped for.  Getting a public acknowledgement of how others see you and no less, in front of my teenage son, and one hundred others, was more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. My son seemed to hang on ever word the professor said during the class. I think (hope) he may have even started to see his mom in a new light after what the professor said.

We went to the game the following day. There were times when I thought my son was bored or indifferent about what we were doing, because he was being quiet. But every so often, he would lean over to me and say, “Mom, this is pretty cool.” I was seeing that I’d been right, I did need to give myself and son some space to better ‘see’ him and understand him.

We got back on the road the day after the game. It was a wonderful trip, but it was still nagging me that I hadn’t had a heart to heart with my son. As we neared the end of our road trip, I said to him, “You know mom loves you. We’ve had a really nice trip. You sometimes give mom a hard time or are rude, and I want to understand why. Do you know why you do it? Because if you do, we can work together on it and figure it out.” He paused for a second and said, “Mom, I’m not sure why I do it.” You could tell his wheels were turning. “Okay,” I said, “If something comes to mind, let’s talk about it. I love you and I don’t want us to fuss at each other or be upset with each other all the time.” He nodded and I left it at that.

It was a trip of a lifetime for me. One I will cherish forever. Spending time with my son, and us reaching this new level of understanding was priceless. Everything else — the professor, the class, the campus, the game, was icing on the cake.

How are you connecting with your child? How are you navigating any strain (if it exists) in your relationship?

 

On the Road (Again)

Do you have to travel for work?

I am on the road once again. This year looks to be on that will involve more travel than I’d like. My kids are older, so it’s not as painful as it previously was. They are able to get themselves ready, lunches made and out the door with little effort (other than nagging) from my husband or I. We still have to drive them to various spots, but that seems more of an inconvenience (a needed inconvenience) than additional stress, and when one of us is away the other picks up the slack easily.

My sons are better able to handle one of us being away too. FaceTime helps — me mainly — I need to ‘see’ everyone’s okay.  When I call I often find my kids are happy as clams watching whatever is on Cartoon Network — my call becomes a ‘distraction’ from an episode they’ve probably already seen a dozen times.  They’ll throw me a bone and say “hi, Mom” and ask “How was your day?” and I may get a few more nuggets of what happened during the day. I’m tired, they’re distracted, not ideal for a meaningful interaction, but I’m glad we do it regardless. The guilt I’ve felt in years past has dissipated a bit. It’s still there, but not as strong as it previously was. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve gotten accustomed to me traveling or my kids (and I) seem to be able to handle it better, or both.

Traveling does remind me that I’m missing precious time with them. The meeting or event may feel really ‘important’ but when I see their little distracted (yes, by the cartoon or video app or whatever has their attention) faces, I’m reminded of the time I’m missing being present with them. How quickly they are growing up, and how I can’t wait until I’m back home again.

How do you stay connected with your child when you are traveling?

To Grandma’s House You Go

What special memories do you have of your time with your grandparents?

Our boys are fortunate. They have two sets of very loving grandparents that they will get to visit with this summer. The good news is the grandparents love them and are eager to spend time with them (and thankfully in good health), the bad news is the grandparents live far away. Both sets are across the country.  We decided this year, our boys are old enough to visit both sets of grandparents by themselves. Sending my boys on a plane without us is one of the most stressful things I’ve done, but I know they are going towards people that love them a lot and can’t wait to see them.

While concerned about them while they travel to see their grandparents, I also worry about their behavior (and what it will be) once they get there. Will they be on their best behavior? Will they act up (talk back to Grandma and Grandpa, whine, complain, etc.)? What will Grandma and Grandpa do if (when) this happens?

Grandparents vary, right? Some just want to love on their grandchild(ren) — give them hugs, take them places and maybe buy them things. They are happy to spend time with them in whatever form. There are others that want the time spent together to be more meaningful — teaching values, morals, life lessons, etc. One accepts the grandchild as they are. The other wants (or hopes) to mold the grandchild. Some grandparents are a blend of both, and others nothing like what I’ve mentioned above. Most grandparents though do share one thing in common: they love their grandkids.

In preparation for their first trip, my husband and I, assuming our kids would have their moments (e.g. they would ‘act up’ at some point), gave them some ground rules to help them (and their grandparents) enjoy their time together:

1. Don’t complain — if you don’t like what is being asked of you (wake up at a certain time, help with something, eat a new food, etc.) either a) suggest an alternative politely *or* b) just do what is being asked (arguing will just delay the inevitable and make everyone miserable)

2. Ask upfront for permission on screen time — grandparents want to spend time with you, not your gadgets. Grandparents are not unreasonable, so ask them what screen time they can live with. Determining this upfront will help with heart ache later.

3. Suspend bathroom humor — Grandma and Grandpa will not find it nearly as funny as you do

4. Have fun — there are so many neat things you get to do with Grandma and Grandpa — going fishing, swimming, eating ice cream, etc. — focus on what’s in front of you (the people, the place, the experience), not what you’re missing out on (e.g. another game of Madden Mobile or cartoon you’ve already seen a dozen times).

I am so thankful our boys have both sets of grandparents and can make memories with them. I know my boys will appreciate those memories much more when they are older.

Will my boys behave while their away? I’m not as concerned with them behaving as I am with both my sons and their grandparents appreciating the opportunity they have to share wonderful memories together. I know I treasure memories I had with mine.

What special memories does your child have with their grandparents? How are they creating new memories together?

Relax and Rest, Repeat

How are you relaxing this summer? Have you been able to get away on vacation, or find some ways to rest at home?

The school year always feels like a busy time. There is always something to plan for, something to remember to have your child bring, or not bring. It seems like you always have to be somewhere (and you have to remember where, because it changes). And there are always lots of activities: after school activities, homework, etc. It’s enough to make anyone long for the summer break. But summers don’t seem as relaxing as I remember them.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for the summer and the time off. Summer meant swim team practice, riding bikes with my friends in the neighbor and playing at each other’s house. Summer took on a different meeting when I entered the workforce. The long stretches of time off went away and were replaced with 8+ hours/day of work with an occasional vacation day sprinkled in.

As a parent, there never seems to be enough time off. There are the demands of the job, and getting your child to where they need to be (camps, friends, etc.). Taking time off to spend it together as a family is something we do each summer: taking a trip to visit family and seeing different parts of the country. There never seem to be enough vacation days or time to do all the things we’d like to do. And there never seems like there is enough time to rest.

I was reminded by the directions on a shampoo bottle, that I might need to re-tweak my formula for how to spend my time during the summer. The shampoo direction said, “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.” I thought, they are onto something here…it’s simple to follow and yields results. My new phrase for how I spend my summer time is: Rest. Relax. Repeat. It will take some effort on my part, but the summer is a great time to enjoy the good things going on in your life: the warm weather, your family’s health and all the great adventures we can have at home and wherever we spend our time off.

How will you spend your summer? How do you rest and relax during this time of the year?

Speaking of resting…I’ll be taking a break from writing for the next few weeks and will return following the Labor Day weekend. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Let’s Have an Adventure

What family vacations come to mind from your childhood?  Road trips? Camping? Visiting friends or family?

As a child, my family was a ‘road trip’ kind of family. We drove everywhere, regardless of the distance. Our trips were educational. We saw a lot, learned a lot, and after a while, got on each other’s nerves a lot. But we enjoyed the experience together and have many great memories as a result. As a young adult, I often felt like many of our family vacations were FFF – Forced Family Fun, but in reality, they were an adventure.

An adventure is defined as an exciting or remarkable experience. I can remember getting ready for our trips, packing our suitcases, and thinking about the games we’d play in the car. It was exciting, we were going to see and do something new. Even if we were going to see our relatives or go to a new place, our road trips were never quite the same.

This summer, we have planned many adventures for our family. There will be camping, long drives, and lots of time together. My husband and I can’t wait. The kids seem excited too. I wonder if they’ll think back and have fond memories of our time together, or if they’ll think of these trips as Forced Family Fun.

We are building memories, and I’m treasuring each one. To see my sons faces once we get to our destination, to see them enjoying finding bugs in the outdoors, roasting marshmallows over the campfire, watching waterfalls in awe, or seeing their joy as they jump into a pool, I’m not sure being a parent gets much better than these moments.

What adventures do you have planned for this year?

Let the Sun Shine In

Sun and warmer weather has finally reached the Pacific Northwest. I can see the change in myself, I’m smiling more, I’m happier. I can see the change in others as well. People also seem to be happier, smiling more, are friendlier, and most are making comments along the same lines. Isn’t it beautiful outside? Aren’t you so happy about the sun?

I grew up in the southeast, where sun, warm weather, thunderstorms in the summer and bugs year-round was pretty much guaranteed. I took it for granted when I relocated to the northwest. I wanted to experience all four seasons, meet new people, see new places and do new things. I’ve fallen in love with the northwest, but miss the southeast during long stretches of gray skies, rain, and cooler weather.

I think about my children growing up here and wonder where they will want to live when they are older. Will they want to stay in the northwest or go to a place with a similar climate? Or will they want a change and go somewhere where sun is plentiful?

I’m grateful my boys are several years away from leaving home, and want to make the most of the weather we are experiencing by sharing it with them. Blooming flowers, beautiful colors all around, clear skies, majestic mountains and people, lots of people, with smiles on their faces.  I’m often caught off guard by all the beauty going on around me at once. I continue to think I’ll never get used to this. It feels a little like seeing what’s possible for humankind—beauty for all of us to share in and enjoy together.

The reality is this stretch of beautiful weather will likely be short lived. It will last a week or so if we are lucky. Temperatures will cool and the gray skies will return. Our beautiful weather doesn’t seem to start and stay until around July 4th each year. I’m okay with that though. Stretches like this give me energy and remind me of what’s important, and life’s possibilities.

Let the sun shine in!