What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?

Getting to Know You

How well do you know your child?

As a parent, I’d like to think I know my kids pretty well, but my assessment was recently put into question. As I’ve shared, my youngest son is on the autism spectrum. After meeting with a specialist, my husband and I were provided with suggested readings to help us better understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There were several books that were recommended, along with a workbook. I ordered all the material in hopes that they would be useful. Some were intended for my son. Some were intended for my husband and I (and my son’s teachers). I wasn’t sure how my son would react when I showed him the material. Would he be upset? Or relieved? Or something else?

When the first couple of books came, I showed them to him. Because my son’s biggest challenge is picking up on social cues, we started with You are a Social Detective! Explaining Social Thinking to Kids by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke. My son and I read through the book. It was very insightful, but I wasn’t sure how much he really was following and retaining. It’s a great reference book that we’ll need to read and re-read to ensure it sinks in. The next book I shared with him was Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder. My son really liked this book. “Wow! Sir Isaac Newton had autism? Albert Einstein?” he said. You could tell he felt that instead of being deficient for being on the spectrum he was in elite company with some of history’s most famous people. Then we came upon Asperger’s…What Does It Mean to Me? A workbook explaining self-awareness and life lessons to the child or youth with high functioning autism or Asperger’s by Catherine Faherty. This book was a godsend. My son and I started reading the workbook together. It walks through different topics explaining how children on the autism spectrum may think, feel or look at situations differently than someone who is not. Then it asks the child to self-assess and answer what is true from them. Talk about getting to know your child. My son started having lightbulb moments–understanding how others without autism may experience something versus how he does–he was gaining clarity around his autism and so were my husband and I. As we read through the workbook together, our son learned more about himself, my husband and I learned more about ASD, and more about our son and how he experiences the world. It was (and is) priceless. Assumptions we had made were dispelled and unknowns were replaced with information about our son. After completing the workbook I believe I understand my son and ASD much better. It was so insightful, we talked to our son and asked if he would be willing to share the workbook with his teachers and staff who work with him so they can better understand him as well. He agreed. “What about grandma and grandpa? Or your aunts and uncles? Can we share it with them?” I asked. “Sure!,” he said. I loved his enthusiasm and willingness to share with those who love and care about him.

We are excited about finding this workbook and the other wonderful material that is helping us better understand our son. There is no greater feeling, in my opinion, then having knowledge to help you navigate life. It’s challenging enough. Having this information feels like blinders have been lifted and we can better take on this new(er) terrain.

How well do you know your child? What material (book, course, etc.) have you come across that has helped you better understand them?

The Haircut — A Mom’s Confession

Do you remember a haircut from your childhood that you were particularly fond or, or embarrassed by?

My oldest son, who is entering middle school this year, is becoming more concerned with his appearance.  Up until recently he preferred I give the stylist instructions, but over the past year he’s decided he wants to have some input, and I supported him. I can remember having some haircuts I hated as a teen — a prem on already wavy hair (I looked like a poodle), having my hair cut so short it made my face look very round (not a look any teen wants), or putting ‘Sun-In’ in my hair (that was no one’s fault but mine) — I had two-toned hair for months — ugh! — and wished I’d been encouraged to give more input before and during the haircut (I would have begged to have my hair colored back to it’s natural color during my Sun-In phase once I stopped using it if I could have).

I was impressed by the input my son gave. “I want the hair cut short not just around my ears, but all the way around in the back,” he said. “Oh, and I don’t want any sideburns, I don’t like them.” I didn’t even realize he knew what sideburns were, and his were slight, but he was clear. He didn’t want any. The hairdresser obliged and he got a great cut. He was very pleased. Months passed, and being into sports like he is, he has a sense for how athletes use their hair to make a statement, and decided that he too, needed a ‘sportier’ haircut. He decided instead of going to the same place we’ve gone to since he was a baby, he was ready for the barber shop. My husband took him and showed him the ropes. My son got more familiar with clipper numbers and enjoyed bonding with his dad. He, once again, gave the barber instructions on how he wanted his haircut and the barber obliged. My son was happy. I, on the other hand, thought my son’s hair looked ‘okay’ but could be better, but held my tongue.

This is one of those parent dilemmas: when do you let your child look a certain way  whether it’s hair, clothes, make-up, and when do you say something? I grew up hearing most mornings “are you going to wear that?”, which I hated, and decided long ago that I did not want to repeat this with my son, but I did just that. A few weeks after my son got his hair cut (and I held my tongue ever so briefly) I asked him if he would be willing to see another stylist that mom knew (this is a woman I’ve seen for years and I’ve seen her do amazing cuts on men and women and knew she could give my son a great cut). “No, I’m good,” my son said. I didn’t give up so easy. “I like your cut, but know someone who can give you a really great sports cut — like Rinaldo,” I had his attention. “Well, maybe,” he replied. I decided not to push it…but that only lasted a few days. “You know you’re hair is going to be bothering you soon (it always does when it starts to get even a little long), just let me make this appointment and if you don’t like the cut I’ll never suggest going there again.” That seemed to do it. “Okay,” he said. I made the appointment. I prepped him on what would happen — he would be going  to an adult salon (not a barber shop). The stylist would walk him through the cut. He could ask any questions that he wanted, and he could tell her what he did and didn’t want. The haircut began. My stylist walked him through a haircut and, with his input, he went with a sporty-fade. She educated him on the different terminology and tools and helped him feel more comfortable about his hair. She talked him through styling techniques and products to use to help him ‘rock his haircut’ whenever he wanted to. The whole time I was a nervous wreck. I had great trust in my hairdresser, but was questioning the choice I was making as a parent. I had brought him here. This was my idea. What if he hated the cut and the experience? He would lose trust in me if he felt he has been mislead. Had I made a mistake?

I was fortunate in that the cut turned out great. He was ecstatic. He got out of the chair and said, “Mom, I just got the perfect haircut. I love it.” My son doesn’t say such things easily. I have rarely seen him this happy. I’ve experienced a great haircut high so I knew what my son was feeling. He really liked the way he looked, and believe him understanding more about the mechanics of a haircut, and being educated on the terminology and products really helped.

I learned another lesson, or to put it more accurately, was reminded of something I already knew — that I need to let my son decide what he wants to look like and be okay with it. The stress I was feeling during the cut was not fun. Of course, I want my son to feel good about his appearance, but part of growing up is experimenting with your look. You have to have a few ‘what was I thinking’ or ‘I can’t believe I ever thought that looked good’ moments to appreciate how far you’ve come. It won’t be easy, but I need to let him be him.

What haircuts do you remember from your childhood? Have you ever intervened to ‘improve’ your child’s appearance? If so, how did you feel afterwards?

Solar Eclipse

Are you and your family excited about the upcoming eclipse?

Living in the Pacific NW, we know many families who will be making the trek to see the eclipse as it passes through Oregon. There is a lot of excitement, with talk of the upcoming eclipse on the news almost daily.

My family will not be making the trek. We were fortunate to have a lot of time hiking in the National Parks in July and need to stay put for the time being — though we did pick up some “Eclipse Shades” while we were there, and are looking forward to seeing a partial eclipse from where we live.

My boys asked me what the big deal was about the eclipse. “Why do so many people want to see it?” one asked. “Its rare, the moon will cross in front of the sun’s path and we won’t see the sun for a while” I explained. “The last total solar eclipse that went across the US happened when your mom was a kid.” That caught their attention. “Will we be able to see any of it?” my other son asked. “They say we’ll see a partial eclipse from here,” I shared. That seemed to satisfy them.

We don’t often get excited about seeing the sun and take it for granted. The eclipse has reminded my sons of the sun’s importance and even peaked their scientific minds in better understanding how our solar system works. It’s peaked my curiosity too. I don’t recall anyone making a big deal about the eclipse when I was a kid, and don’t remember making any effort to see it. I will make the effort this time.

Will your family be taking in the eclipse? Are you traveling to see the full eclipse or staying put?

An Uncertain Future

With a new school year right around the corner, there is a lot of angst in our house. What will the new school year be like? Will my children fit in, make friends and be okay?

As parents, we ask ourselves these questions each year.

This year, my family will be at another crossroads. My oldest will be heading off to middle school. There is a lot of angst for him, even though he will be going to a school with many familiar faces, the unknown is concerning to him. The school is much larger than his elementary school (with almost 3x the number of students). It would be overwhelming to anyone. Throw in that he is quickly becoming a teen, and all that comes with it — being more self conscious and concerned with how others view you — and your anxiety would rise too. I remember middle school and I shudder. Of all my school years, it’s those that I wish I could have skipped. They were awkward, I never felt comfortable in my own skin, and experienced a heightened sense of needing to survive to get through those years. I’m desperately trying not to project my experience on my son, and am hopeful his time in middle school will be much better mine.

My younger will be in elementary school for the first time on his own. Of course, he too has many classmates who are familiar to him, but I’m anxious about how he will do on his own. Part of me knows I need to give him more credit. He’s a resilient kid, and will figure it out.

As a parent, I’m reminded during times like these how much is out of our control. I can certainly try to help my children prepare for the school year, but ultimately they will be the ones going to school and while I can help them as much as possible up front, I have to let go and let them fail or succeed on their own.

Parenting is tough when the future is uncertain. Have I done all I can to prepare them (with knowledge, insights, strategies for how to deal with different situations, etc.)? I guess we will see.

How do you help your kids get ready for the new school year? How do you help them navigate being in a new environment?

 

Hanging Out

My oldest son used to go on play dates, but not anymore.

At his school’s Field Day, I was introduced to one of his classmate’s mom when her son and mine ran up to us. “Mom, mom, can K come over?” my son asked. I looked at K’s mom. “Would you all be up for a play date?” My son looked horror struck. He quickly said, “Mom, we don’t call them play dates anymore, you call it hanging out or chilling,” (while throwing in some hand gestures to ensure I understood he was ‘cool’). 🙂  I could tell I had unintentionally embarrassed my son by using the wrong lingo, so I quickly corrected myself. “Can K come over to hang out this weekend?” We set a time up when K could come over.

When my son and I were alone in the car later he said, “Mom, play dates are what little kids do. I’m not a little kid anymore.” He’s right, he’s not. I catch myself still using ‘baby/little kid’ talk too often. I recently asked, “Does anyone need to go potty before we leave?” My boys both responded, “Mom (in a long drawn out way that indicated I should know better), it’s called the bathroom, and yes we’ve both used it!” I’ve realized two things: 1) my boys are indeed growing up, and 2) I’ve got to revisit my vocabulary — because I don’t want to embarrass them (I know I hated being embarrassed even unintentionally by my parents growing up), and using older language allows me to acknowledge that they are indeed getting older.

Has anyone else caught themselves doing this? If so, how are you catching yourself and modifying your language?

Into the Wilderness

Anyone like exploring new territory?

I love finding parallels in life and parenting. Hiking into new terrain is much like parenting — there is always a new path or trail — sometimes the view is beautiful, sometimes it is challenging; you can feel safe and confident and other times lost and scared — what are you supposed to do next? The more you hike, the more prepared you feel to handle the unexpected. Much like parenting. Though you can still be caught off guard from time to time when you face something new, regardless of your preparation or past experience.

We will be doing some hiking this summer, and while I’m looking forward to spending time with my kids, I stepping into the wilderness in a more parental way. Our son has autism. He is high functioning but exhibits some tell-tale signs that he is on the spectrum: arms flapping when he’s interested in something or he gets excited (often paired with a humming sound); and struggling with picking up on some social cues. We have known this for several years, and have enlisted the help of several professionals to help us and him. With that said, my husband and I hadn’t shared our son’s diagnosis with him, nor spoke about it openly (outside of talking with teachers, counselors and other professionals) until now. My reluctance to talk about it openly was not because I was embarrassed or ashamed, but because I didn’t want a label attached to him–I didn’t want people to think of him as being ‘different’ or less than (because he isn’t). I didn’t want it do define him — what he’s capable of and who he is and will be. I convinced myself that by keeping quiet I was protecting him and, if I’m being completely honest, also protecting myself — somehow I felt like his diagnosis was a failure on my part (yes, I realize that is not rational). I didn’t want to have to discuss with the situation with family or friends. I didn’t want to shine a spotlight on it. In talking with an therapist she told me it was time to embrace the diagnosis, let my son in on what he was dealing with so he understood his own behavior and why it was different.  I am the adult in the situation and have grown a thicker skin. And while I may be concerned that sharing this could draw judgment, or pity; I know that those that love my son and our family will be supportive and caring. My son needed to know, and I needed to get over my fears.

We sat our son done and explained his diagnosis. “Being on the spectrum simply means your brain works differently than others. You have advantages that others don’t because you are on the autism spectrum. And you have disadvantages,” we told him. We shared examples of where he is advanced (academics, conversations with adults and younger children) and where he is challenged (building relationships with his peers/friendship; controlling how he expresses interest/excitement). We sat our older son down and explained to him what was going on as well. We thought it was important he understand what his brother was dealing with, and why his brother does what he does. “His brain is wired this way,” we told him. “If someone asks you why your brother is acting weird/strange/differently, you say, “that’s just my brother being my brother” and leave it at that.”

I’m grateful for organizations like Autism Speaks. And the awareness that is being brought by parents and the medical field on this topic. Yet this still feels very unfamiliar to me. It’s almost as though I’ve been studying a map for a while, and I’ve decided to start on my journey through unchartered territory. I am going into the wilderness. Its new. Its scary. I think I’m prepared, but am I? Will I encounter something new I’m not prepared for?  I know I’m going to make mistakes. I know I am going to learn. I am praying I do right by my son and our family.

How do you navigate unfamiliar territory? How do you handle talking about uncomfortable topics?

I will be taking a few weeks off to enjoy the summer with family and will be back in August.

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?

5th Grade Graduation

How much fanfare surrounded your 5th grade graduation?

There was none for mine, and I don’t mean a little, I mean there was none, zero, nada. The general consensus was everyone should be graduating 5th grade or there was a bigger problem that needed to be addressed.  Clearly times have changed, and now there is a desire to more frequently celebrate these milestones. I just didn’t know there would be so many activities. A graduation ceremony seemed a little over the top to me, but then I started getting the notices: Don’t Forget the 5th Grade breakfast, Don’t Forget the 5th Grade Field Trip, Send Pictures for the Baby Picture Wall, Who Can Help with the Legacy Project, etc. Wow, times have changed.

It has been fun digging up old pictures (though challenging after a long days work) and reminiscing around just how far we’ve come. It was fun going to the breakfast and catching up with other parents and recalling first days at school, and how our children, who were once very attached to us are now wanting their space. My son wanted me at the breakfast, but didn’t want to interact with me per se at the breakfast. 🙂 Not to worry, I remember being his age. I was pulling away from my parents as well trying to find myself, just as he is finding his. It is hard to believe that he’ll be moving up to middle school. I’ve relished the protective cocoon of elementary school and dreaded the day he’d move into a less protected space. He feels and I feel it. It’s hard not to acknowledge that time is passing and things are changing. And while I initially felt the school might be over-doing it with all the 5th Grade graduation activities, I’m appreciating it more and more. As the school year nears it’s end, I’m clinging to every day desperately wanting to slow time. My son’s growing up. Time will keep moving. I’m going to cherish every minute.

How are you celebrating your child’s milestones?

I will be off for the holiday weekend and back in July. Happy 4th!

 

Dads Matter

Today we celebrate our father’s, and the father of a child(ren), and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to highlight mine. Some of the greatest moments I’ve had with my dad was when he was present, paying attention, acknowledging me, sharing advice or insight, coaching me, encouraging me, cheering me on, picking me up and telling me, “yes you can.”

Some of my favorite moments as a spouse has been watching my husband be a dad. When he is present with our boys, paying attention to them (and I mean really paying attention), trying new things with them that they like (even if he doesn’t), finding common ground even when it isn’t easy, being self-aware enough to admit mistakes and work to correct them.

I enjoy how much my sons love their dad. My oldest was excited about the prospect of Father’s Day coming up several weeks back. “Mom, I want to get Dad a gift this year!” he shared. He had seen a t-shirt online that said “The Best Dads are Made in ____” (and you could pick your state of choice).  He was so excited about giving it to his dad. It made me really happy to see him so excited about giving a gift to someone he loves so much. Of course, my husband loved the shirt. I think he’s still in a bit of shock our son came up with this gift idea all on his own.

Being a parent is hard. Moments when our parents were there for us mattered. It meant something. Being there for our kids now matters. Whether they show it to us in the form of t-shirt that says “The Best Dads are Made in ____” or hug, or a head nod, it matters.

Thank you to all the dads out there, with a special thanks to my husband and my dad.

Happy Father’s Day.