Gender Fluidity

Gender fluidity is not something I gave much thought to prior to becoming a parent. I thought in terms of having a boy or a girl and the joys and challenges that came with each.

As our culture has become more aware, and with strong individuals who have been brave enough to be their true selves, it’s opened conversations and minds on what it means to be transgender, LGBTQ, and helped bring awareness and appreciation for those who do not identify non-binary or non-conforming to a single gender. As a parent it has given my husband and I an opportunity to explore our sons knowledge, and experiences around the topic.

This didn’t just happen out of the blue. We’ve continued to read as a family. Moving from To Kill a Mockingbird to Call of the Wild. We started a third book, but it wasn’t holding our interest, so we let our youngest pick the next book. He suggested we read The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. He had started to read it at school prior to the school closing due to Covid-19. He thought the book was good and hadn’t finished it. We got a copy and started to read.

We are still early in the book but are learning one of the main characters is non-gender conforming and prefers the pronoun “they” vs. he/him or she/her. It’s written in such a way that while the character is non-conforming that is secondary to who they are. They are true to themselves and good at finding others that will accept them as they are. They are confident in their own skin. Who doesn’t want that (for themselves or their child)? It’s lead to us having truly wonderful conversations with our boys, talking about diversity and acceptance. Everyone is essentially different — it’s a matter of how outwardly visible those differences are, right? — so many of us can more easily hide (or try to) our differences because they aren’t outwardly visible, but oh how freeing it feels when you let your full true self be known.

I’m grateful my son recommended this book, and look forward to us continuing to grow together in appreciation of everyone regardless of how they identify.

How are you helping your child understand and appreciate differences in others?

Have you Reddit?

Quarantine is helping my husband and I better understand our kids interests. Particularly on the Internet. The computer is in a common space in our house. The only exception is when our boys are doing online school (they can take the pc into their room for their virtual class). My husband and I try to pay attention to what they are watching and periodically check the history to ensure they are looking at appropriate content (we have identified sites that we’ve had to have conversations with our boys about periodically). The pandemic equals more time at home, and more screen time for my kids.

Having dinner one night, we got on the topic of what the kids had learned that day (from school or otherwise). My younger son shared something he learned (I wish I could remember what he said), and it prompted me to ask him where he learned this (as it didn’t sound like something he’d learn in school). “Reddit,” he said. My husband and I looked at each other with slight concern. “Do you think what you learn on Reddit is all true?” I felt I needed to challenge his belief around credible sources. “No, mom,” he said as if it was the dumbest question I could have asked, “but there is some stuff that is true on it.” I have to admit it’s been years since I’ve been on Reddit so I couldn’t further my argument. My older son joined it, “Yea, mom, what’s wrong with Reddit?” My husband and I turned the question back on them. “What’s so good about it?” I asked. “Well, I don’t know. It has pretty good stuff,” my older son said. “It’s not like it’s 4chan.” “4chan, what’s that?” I asked. I liked my kids were sharing with me. I wasn’t sure I was going to like what I heard but wanted to know regardless. “It has just about everything on it. There’s funny memes and videos.” “Yea, 8chan, is way worse. We don’t go there. It’s got a lot of extreme stuff on it,” my younger piped in. “Don’t worry, mom, we aren’t looking at anything bad.” Of course my husband and I would be re-reviewing their browser history soon.

We talked about credible sources for news. I found it laughable when my oldest said, “where should we get our news – Instagram? Facebook?” “No,” both my husband and I replied, “You get it from credible sources that employee journalists that have degrees in journalism.” While I know not all good journalists have journalism degrees it wasn’t worth creating any gray around the subject. “There are newspapers (local and national), TV (local and national), and radio stations, like NPR, that provide you with information that can ensure you really understand what’s going on,” we shared. Those other sites you mentioned may have news on them, but they are more for entertainment than for giving you the facts. My sons seemed to get the point my husband and I were trying to make. I think the websites they have enjoyed may have lost some of their “cool” factor for them too. “Mom, I can’t believe you know what Reddit is” my youngest shared. “You’d be surprised what I know,” I finished. He smiled, looked briefly concerned with thus realization, then smiled again. 😊

I’m glad my husband and I got to know more about our boys, and our boys us.

What are you learning about your child, and their habits, during quarantine?

Going Viral

How is the Coronavirus impacting you?

It’s scary to think of this new disease that has emerged. Taking lives with no vaccine available. Having kids the fear is compounded. You’re worried about everyone wondering how you keep your family members safe. You hear about the virus everywhere you go. The virus has literally gone viral.

Traveling is now a challenge. Do I still fly for a business meeting? Does my son take the bus to school? What about grocery shopping and being in public spaces? And well, living your life like you normally would.

My youngest son came down with a cold this week. Of course, the first thought is ‘could this be the virus’ but he only has a runny nose, no fever or any of the other symptoms. We decided to be on the safe side and keep him home from school to ensure he didn’t pass along his germs to others.

We are also trying to keep our kids from stressing out. Nothing is worse, in my opinion, than when a child sees their parent is genuinely scared. While my husband and I may worry about the virus, I can’t say we’re scared. We are calmed by knowing that if any of us come down with it our chances of getting a deadly form of the virus are low, we live in a city with good medical care, and we’re taking the recommended precautions (washing our hands frequently, not touching our face, etc.). Still, the unknown can be unnerving. I suppose I’m trying to live by the British war time motto, Keep Calm and Carry On. Not easy, but necessary — particularly for the sake of my kids and helping them navigate this.

How are you helping your child stay safe? How are helping them during this scary time?

All I Want For Christmas is…

What does your child want for Christmas this year?

My kids are older now, so gift giving is somewhat easier – getting gift cards, money, athletic gear, YouTuber merch (yes, I’m using teenage slang now. 🙂 ), or music — and they are happy campers. For me, sure there are things that I’d like, but nothing that I need. I feel unbelievably fortunate.

At home, one evening near dinner time, my younger son was sharing some of his favorite sayings at school. He threw them out rapidly and each one made you stop and think. I was impressed, but the one that stopped me in my tracks was, “there’s no pause button in life.” I said, “Did you hear that from someone or did you come up with that yourself?” He replied, “No, mom, I came up with that myself.” I think I saw an eye-roll before he went about sharing other favorite phrases he likes to use at school. Now, I know my son is not the first person to come up with or use this phrase, but the fact that it resonated with him, and he understood what it meant, blew me away.

I ask my family to join me to see the luminaries lining a nearby lake every December. It’s a tradition I’ve been trying to create for many years (even blogging about it previously). This year, it was raining the night of the luminaries. The rain was supposed to move out, but hung around. I told my kids it was time to go and they both protested in a way that I knew that while I could force them to do it, none of us would enjoy ourselves. So, my husband and I went by ourselves and walked the lake in the rain. We commented on the pros — lesser crowds and no kids protesting; the cons — it was raining pretty hard, and our kids weren’t with us. We had dinner following and talked about how it will only be a few more years before our oldest is out on his own, and only so many more times to walk the lake together as a family. It reminded me of what my younger son had said — that there is no pause button in life. Oh, how I wish there was. The hard times, I might want to fast forward through, of course, but there are those times when you want to slow things down, maybe even backup and do them over, but you can’t. There is indeed no pause (reverse, or fast forward) button in life.

All I want for Christmas this year is for my family to be together, and enjoy our time together. The kids promised they’d walk the lake with me next year (we’ll see if that actually happens or not), and that’s enough for me for now. 🙂

What do you want for Christmas?

I will be off for the next few weeks spending time with family, returning in January. Happy Holidays!

 

Zip Lining through Fear

Does your child seek out adventure or shy away from it?

My oldest loves thrill rides, and is more often than not, open to trying something new. Even if it might be a little bit scary. My youngest is opposed to thrill rides, and generally opposed to trying anything that involves taking a visible risk. I understand. I was scared of the same things when I was young, but through the encouragement of my parents (largely my father who reminded me, time and again, that I could do this, and that everything would be okay) I learned to not only overcome my fears but be willing to take risks.

We decided to go to a zip line operator to do something fun as a family over the holiday weekend. We knew going in we’d all be a little nervous once we got to the top of the zip line, but thought the fun of doing it together was worth it.

I went first, my youngest son after me followed by my husband and his older brother. When my youngest got to the first platform he was scared. I thought well goodness we’re not even half way up. He looked at me and said, “A bee is stinging me.” The platform wound around the tree making it awkward for me to get to him quickly to try to help. I managed to get to him, saw there was a bee on his shirt and tried to shake it off. I thought I had when my son cried, “Mom, it’s stinging me. Make it stop.” I thought the bee was gone, but when I pulled my son’s shirt away from him the bee flew out. I thought oh no, do we go on? Do we stop? We were only on the first platform. After everyone had calmed down I looked at my son. “The bee is gone now. Are you okay? Are you ready to move on?” I don’t know what possessed me to say that, maybe it was the fact that my son is getting older and things like this can happen. I didn’t want the bee to be the end of our experience. He nodded and we kept moving forward. We got to the next platform and while crossing on the bridge (which honestly was pretty scary as there were big openings where you could see the ground directly below your feet) his harness came down around his legs. This can’t be happening I thought. Maybe someone was trying to tell us not to zip line? Thankfully a staff member saw what happened and quickly got to him and got his harness back on and tightened properly. We finally reached the zip line. He was behind me as I got ready to go. “I’m scared,” he said. “I am too,” I said, “I can only get through my fear if I go.” I stepped off the platform and off I went. Almost instantly my fear was gone and I was enjoying zipping down the line. “It’s great!” I told my son as I was soaring through the air, “You’re going to love it.” It took him a while to get his courage up to go after me. My husband was on one end encouraging him and I was on the other. After a few minutes, he stepped off the platform and came hurdling towards me. I could see that he too had moved from fear to that’s what I was so worried about?

When he was off the zip line he was so proud of himself, and so was I. He had many opportunities to turn back, say “I’m done”, but he didn’t. He showed himself he’s tougher and more capable than even he could have believed.

How does your child work through fear? How do help show them what they are capable of?

Dear Old Dad

How are you celebrating Father’s Day today?

Every year on Father’s Day, we think about our dads. Favorite memories come up. For me it’s celebrations after swim meets, running road races together as a child and teen, seeing him cheer me on regardless of the situation, helping me with math or a science project, watching sports together, or having him acknowledge me and what I have to offer the world. I am fortunate, my dad was and is present and takes his role seriously.

Dad’s are important. I can’t imagine who I would be or what I would be doing professionally if he weren’t there guiding me through life. So for all the dad’s out there I say, “Thank you!” Your daughter(s) and son(s) are paying attention and grateful for you — your guidance, your presence and your love.

How will you celebrate your father today? What gifts, as a parent, are you giving your child as their father?

Happy Fathers Day!

The “You’re a Bad Parent” Lecture

Have you ever been approached by someone or overhead comments on your parenting?

My family and I went away for Memorial Day weekend. We decided it would be fun to ride bikes where we were. We picked our bikes from the local bike shop and got ready to go. My youngest son was struggling to keep his balance on his bike. He’s outgrown his smaller bike, but doesn’t feel confident on an adult bike. We had the kids practice in a parking lot to build their confidence. After a while we decided we were ready for our ride, which would take us through a small town and back to where we were staying. We had driven our car to pick up the bikes we were renting. My husband was going to drive back to where we were staying and we’d meet him there later.

I should have known the ride might not go as planned when my oldest son refused to lead the way. He was adamant that I had to lead. I think he thought he would get too far ahead, go the wrong way, and get lost. “Easy,” I told him, “just don’t go too fast, and stop periodically to make sure I’m still behind you.” “No,” he insisted, “you have to go first.” I expressed my concern about being able to keep an eye on his younger brother, who was doing better on his bike, but still not out of the woods (I had just watched him narrowly miss hitting a parked Tesla – gulp). My husband was gone with the car, and we had a several miles ahead of us.

I went first, reluctantly. I didn’t make it a block before I heard my oldest yelling, “Mom! Mom!” I turned around thinking my youngest was having a hard time getting started. Instead I saw what happened. He’d hit a parked car. Thankfully he hit it at an incredibly slow speed, but it scared him — and the driver who was sitting inside. 😦 I made my way back to the car. My son was sobbing — hitting the car had scared him but then having the driver approach him sent him over the edge. I told my son it was okay and that this can happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my car sideswiped by a cyclist, (accidentally of course), in my downtown area. The driver realized my son was young so quickly redirected their anger at me. I started by asking if they were okay. I asked if they thought any damage had been done to their car and what I could do to help. I don’t think the driver was hoping I was to try to remedy the situation, because after doing so, and apologizing profusely, she started down the path of questioning my ability to parent. I don’t think she said ‘what kind of mother let’s her child ride his bike where he can hit a parked car’ but it was close enough. She clearly was upset about what happened and didn’t seem content on letting me leave until she’d said what she wanted. I listened. She wasn’t going to give me any wisdom or insights into how to better parent. But she could get me to review my actions, take accountability for my role, and I could let her feel heard. When she was done with her lecture I asked if there was anything else I could do to make this right and that prompted another tongue lashing. I learned my lesson and when she finished next I just said, “Okay.” And walked back to where my kids were. I called my husband to come back and pick up his bike since he was too upset to go on, and once he did, my older son and I went on our bike ride.

Having a stranger be genuinely upset with you is a terrible feeling. Have a stranger upset with you over your parenting is a whole other level of awful — they can strike a nerve and call you on some truth (I had already been concerned about my younger son on his bike — I should have stood firm(er) on my oldest son leading), or just try to public shame you revealing how little about the situation and your parenting they actually understand.

I was grateful the exchange was behind us and everyone was okay. We were able to work with my youngest son the remainder of the weekend to build his confidence with the bigger bike. We still have a ways to go, but are making good progress.

How do you handle situations where people judge your parenting choices?

 

 

Growing into Yourself

How did you become the person you are today?

It’s not a simple question to answer.

It’s curious being a parent watching your children navigate who they are and want to be (now and in the future). My oldest son is very self-critical. He often gets frustrated when he can’t do something new exceptionally well the first time. He’s disappointed and gets angry that his body or mind requires him to work at something.

I don’t know where this comes from. We’ve always talked to our kids about hard work and how it pays off. How everyone, regardless how smart, strong, etc., has to work to hone their skill(s) and improve. He’s heard us talk about this numerous times, he’s heard teachers and coaches say this, but can only conclude that he believes our words don’t apply to him.

Until this last school year. For the first time Ive seen him want to get better on his own. It was as if he’d awakened and finally understood that if he wants to improve — in sports or school or anything else, he’s going to have to put in the work. During a student-teacher conference the teacher confirmed this growth / maturity my son had gained. I always feel it is a gift when someone acknowledges you in such a profound way. I could see my son appreciated the teacher’s comments as well. I left the meeting grateful that my son was maturing and taking a more active role in where life takes him, but I can’t put my finger on what led him to this realization, or desire to better himself. Is it self awareness that he lacked before and now found, or just a better understanding of how things work and realizing there are almost always no shortcuts to success?

I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but I’m somewhat in awe of watching my son grow into himself.

How are you helping your child grow into who they will become?

The Magic of Pets

How do know your child’s full potential?

There are certainly times when I feel like I see or experience my children’s potential. When one of them pushes themselves to do something new or challenging, but a recent comment from my son got me thinking — how do I (or anyone) really understand my child’s full potential?

My family was getting ready to head out the door for some weekend activities when our cat made his presence known. We each acknowledged the cat with a pet, or scratch behind the ears. My youngest son leaned down to the cat and said, “I love how you…” my husband and I were sure he’d finish with understand me, but we’re surprised when he said, “…see my full potential.” It actually made us laugh. My son joined in. Pets do have a magical quality about them, and do seem to understand our feelings and can feel very insightful, almost psychic, when they come to us in times of need. It can sometimes feel like the pet knows you, sees beyond your exterior and really knows who you are and what you need. I can remember an experience I had when I wasn’t much older than my son is now. I was having a tough time with puberty and adjusting to getting older. I remember sitting outside feeling sad, and my cat at the time, who typically was off on her own adventures during the day, seemed to come out of no where and sat by me. She looked at me like she understood my worries and was there to remind me that I was loved and lovable. It was magic. How I miss that cat.

My husband and I sensed our son was experiencing some of the magic pets have. A unconditional love that comes and doesn’t ask for anything in return except for basic needs (safety, warmth, food and water).

I don’t know if our cat knows my son’s full potential but I like that my son thinks the cat does. We all need someone who believes in us, that pushes us to explore and be our best selves. A loving pet is as good as anyone to help someone see the beauty and potential they have within.

Do you have pets? What magic are they bringing to you or your family’s lives?

That’s What Friends Are For

What makes a good friend?

This question has gotten a lot more attention from me as I’ve navigated the struggles my son on the autism spectrum has with making friends. What does make a good friend? Someone who is kind in the moment? Someone who wants to engage with you in a kind and supportive way? There are varying levels of friendship. I think of the friends who have come in and out of my life. I was reminded what a good friend looks like when a woman I have known for years and who I have shared just about everything with asked me timidly, “When was your son diagnosed?” She asked it in a whispered voice, and did a quick glance to ensure no one around had heard the question. While I was reluctant to talk about my son being on the spectrum when I first found out, I have come a long way — I’m happy to talk about it openly, but I remember that feeling of being unsure and uncomfortable, I was picking up on the way she was asking that she was uncomfortable. I responded, “When he was around five,” I paused and lowered my voice, “What’s going on?” She leaned in and said, “I haven’t really talked about this, but my son has spoken a word yet, and he’s two and a half, and we’re not sure why.” I could almost feel her concern. As a parent, when your child seems to have any affliction — whether it is a disease that is tough to treat, or a condition that makes them different than others — it can feel like you are at a crossroads — the childhood you imagined you and your child having will likely not be how you envisioned it to be, and that can be scary. We decided to find a time we could talk more openly. I wanted her to feel comfortable sharing and asking whatever questions she had.

Prior to us meeting, I thought about how I could best show up for her for this conversation. The truth is we don’t know if her son is on the spectrum, he hasn’t been tested and officially diagnosed, but he does exhibit behaviors similar to my son. I could easily jump to conclusions and give her all the information I’ve gained since my son’s diagnosis, but figured that really wasn’t what she needed. She needed to know that everything was going to be okay. Yes, her parental journey would be altered, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t be joyous, it was just going to be different. She asked me to share my story. I shared and then asked her what she was most concerned about. She was very concerned they hadn’t figured out what was behind her son not talking despite seeing doctors and specialists and enlisting the help of therapists and others. The next step was doing a battery of tests to get her son properly diagnosed. “I’m concerned because I need to figure this out before he turns three,” she shared. “What is special about him turning three?” I asked, thinking about how we hadn’t really enlisted help for our son until five. “That’s when it says you have the best chance of early intervention, but we don’t know what he has.” She admitted to spending too much time on the internet and going into various rabbit holes of information that all seemed to lead to a future life of doom and gloom for her son and her family. As she spoke, I was reminded of my intention coming into this meeting, what would a good friend say? I borrowed a phrase we use with our older son, who is always jumping ahead in his life and concerned about his future. I was seeing the same thing in my friend.

“How long have you been a parent?” I asked. “Well, two years” she said, clearly taken aback by the question. “And how are you supposed to know everything, and have it all figured out in two years?” I said. “Well, I guess, you’re right, there’s no way you can figure it all out in two years.” I finished, “Think of your journey like a video game, each year of your child’s life is a level. Right now, you’re on level 2, stay there, don’t try to be on level 5 or 12 or 35. You’re on 2, you’re going to continue to learn and get smarter. You are going to figure this out.” She smiled. Her shoulders relaxed. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks.” I did end up giving her a few resources that she could reach out to who could give her some sound advice — these resources had been a Godsend to me. As I left our meeting, I thought, I wish I had had a friend or support like this when my son was first diagnosed. There was support available, but I was just too scared to reach out, and I didn’t have any friends talking. I was glad my friend was brave enough to ask. I was glad I could be that support and encouragement. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Are you struggling with raising your child? What does a good friend do to help support you as a parent?