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. ūüė¶ 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?

March with Me

What causes are important to you and your family?

My son came home from school in December and said, “Mom, the Women’s March is coming up in January, will you march with me?” I was so consumed with all the holiday obligations going on, it hadn’t crossed my mind what might be coming up in January. “That sounds great, but why are you so interested in doing the March?,” I asked. “Because our teacher gave us a choice — participate in a event for a cause and write a 300-word essay about your experience, *or* don’t participate and write a ten page paper on the topic.” I could see the choice was easy for him. He certainly liked the idea of the shorter written assignment, and I believe he felt a bit ‘left out’ when I marched in the 2017 March without him. He wanted to see what all the buzz was about.

The buzz was noticeably less this year — you’ve potentially heard about factions in the leadership levels, numbers of people thinking why bother, what’s going to change, and there was a part of me that was asking myself the same questions — do I want to do this? There is a million excuses I could use not to walk — I’ve got other things to do, I’m tired, the weather isn’t great, etc. But of course I wanted to participate, even if it wasn’t necessarily convenient — I needed to set an example for my son that there are things worth fighting for, and you have to show up sometimes (even when you’re tired, have other things to get done, etc.) because it’s just that important.

I tried to get my son prepared for smaller numbers at the March, he had heard me tell the store many times how overwhelming (in a good way) it was at the numbers of people who came out in 2017 and I was afraid he’d be disappointed, “there may not be a lot of folks here, I really don’t know what to expect.” He responded soon after we arrived, “Mom, there’s a lot of people here, what were you talking about?” I shrugged. “Guess I was wrong,” I smiled.

The organizers brought up several speakers who spoke on many topics including equality, inclusion and safety for women, kids, LGBTQ, immigrants, the poor and Native Americans. Several people came to the March because they are angry at our country’s leadership, and someone started a chant against the current administration. My son was quick to point out, “This isn’t about Trump. This is about what’s wrong with our country and what we need to do to fix it.” He wanted to spend less time complaining about the problem and hearing ways people could fix it. I was impressed.

We started walking with the crowd, and the number of people participating and cheering on the walkers, seemed to grow as we walked along the route. The atmosphere was very positive and uplifting, people were angry, but being surrounded by so many people that want the same things — working together, being kind to one another, making things safer, more accessible for everyone — reminded me of the good we have in every community.

We finished the March and I asked my son what stood out to him about the day. “The number of people,” he said. We checked the numbers on the way home. I’d underestimated how large the crowd was. I said probably a few thousand were there, my son guessed around 50+ thousand. The news confirmed over 85K came — wow!

I can’t wait to march again next year. I think the teacher’s assignment to have the kids participate in a cause was a brilliant idea. I hope either my son on his own, or by incentive of his teachers asks me the same question next year. “Mom, will you march with me?” Yes. Yes. Yes.

What cause is important to you and your family? What motivates you to take action?

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?

Ready Player Two

Do you let your child play video games?

I’ve shared with you before that we don’t have a gaming system in our house. We do have computers, phones and tablets, so while my son sometimes thinks our family not having a XBOX or PlayStation is ‘the worst’ though he’s really not all that deprived.

Over the holidays I was finally able to watch the movie my son had been talking about, Ready Player One. A movie about how gaming had taken over, and the fight to remind us what is really important was on (spoiler alert: connection). ūüėä I was surprised at how much I liked this movie. Perhaps it was the nostalgia tied to the 80s throwbacks (music and games), or how smartly the story was told, or the fact that connecting at a human level — friendship, treating others as equals, and finding room to share success — all resonated with me. While the movie was titled Ready Player One, it left me with a Ready Player 2 feeling (we are better together in numbers).

We went away for a few days over the holiday break. The place we go to has a game room. My son asked me to accompany him to the game room. The XBOXs were taken but an old arcade style game was available. “Wanna play?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied. He hit the 2 player button and we each took turns at Pac-Man, Galaga, and Astroids. It was fun to play together. I was good at some of the games, but he was better at most, and I was fine with that.

After the trip everyone shared their favorite moments. He said, “Going on hikes, and going to the game room you, Mom.” It was a highlight for me too (though maybe for different reasons?). ūüėä

I look forward to any activity my son wants to engage me on. I’m ready. Consider me player 2.

How do you and your child connect over games? What are some of your favorite memories?

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. ūüôā

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?

 

Model Driver

Are you your best self when you’re driving your child somewhere?

I am not.¬†Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I can be, but each car ride varies. If there is lite traffic, and we’re not in a hurry, you are probably see a pretty good version of me. ¬†When traffic is heavy, and/or I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, probably less so. While not a model driver, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of what I’m saying while my kids are in the car. I revert to a play-by-play announcer when I encounter, what I deem, a driver who’s not following what I consider the obvious rules of the road — letting people in,¬†waiting your turn at four-way stops, and turning left behind the car going straight through the intersection. “That car should have waited their turn.” “If they would come across, we could go behind them.” “It wasn’t that car’s turn!” My kids have heard it all, and I’d hate to see them doing an impression of me in the car.

My boys and I were coming home through downtown and traffic was heavy. There is a particularly busy interaction where you can wait for the signal to change five to six times before you get through. By the time it’s your turn, you are more than ready to go. A car, who was in the bus lane (a lane it wasn’t supposed to be in) realized they needed to get out of that lane¬†chose to¬†pull in front of me and partially block¬†the intersection. I went into play-by-play mode. “That car shouldn’t be there, what are they doing?” I knew what the car was doing, but really didn’t like that they had just cut in front of me. The kids were frustrated waiting as well, so me commenting on it, only made the situation worse.¬†The light changed and finally it was our turn to go. I thought the car that had pulled out in front of me would proceed forward, but instead they waited and signaled for other cars to go,¬†not allowing¬†me and all the cars waiting behind me to go. As I saw the walk sign counting down and knowing when it hit zero the light would turn yellow and we still hadn’t moved, I lost my cool and did something I never do — I beeped my horn. And not like a tap-tap-tap like my best self would have done, but more¬†what my upset self felt —¬†MOVE IT, I’M TIRED OF WAITING! The car finally started going and I and maybe one car behind me¬†made it¬†through the intersection.

After getting through the intersection, my oldest son said, “Wow, Mom, you used the “F” word.” “I did?,” I said. I didn’t have any recollection of saying it. Then my younger son said, “Yea, Mom, you said it alright.” “Really?” I replied. I still couldn’t believe I’d cursed in front of my kids. Now some people curse, and I have my fair share of moments when I’m alone in my car, and/or don’t have anyone listening to me, and I’m upset. It’s different when I’m around people. I don’t like curse words — they carry such strong emotions, and can change the way others perceive you and what you are saying. I stress with my boys this point often. I always want them to think before they speak,¬†and avoid curse words if at all possible (and it’s always possible, right?).

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in myself. I had prided myself on trying to be a model driver, or more a model parent, by being mindful of my speech, yet in a moment of high frustration the word came out without me even realizing it. I know how upsetting it was for me to hear my parents use a curse word when I was growing up, and¬†honestly I can only remember each one of them maybe using a curse word once in my life, but each time it left an impression on me. I didn’t like knowing my parents were…human, and maybe more like everyone else than I was ready to accept. I thought of my parents as¬†role models being wise and caring, and while I knew they weren’t perfect they were as close to perfect as any two people I knew.

My son helped ‘refresh’ my memory on what I said to the woman, but the way he said it gave me hope. You said, “You’ve go to be…well, you know, the f-word, kidding me. You drive in front of us and now you’re not going?” I was grateful he didn’t quote me verbatim. I apologized to my son’s for cursing in front of them. They didn’t seem too phased by it, but I’m concerned they will remember it much like I remember those times when my parents did.

We always strive to be good role models, it can feel terrible when you have proof you haven’t lived up to it. It does give¬†me a chance to discuss my mistakes with my sons, take responsibility, and change¬†my behavior (really watch my words — especially when I’m in that heavy traffic!) going forward. I think my kids like knowing Mom makes mistakes too.

How are you modeling the behavior you want for your child? How are you handling situations where you make mistakes?