No Sugar Coating

When I sat down to write this, I intended to write something light-hearted, maybe even something inspired by the newly released Beauty and the Beast movie, but I couldn’t after my son shared a story about his friend experiencing racism.

It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but the conversation I’ve had with my son has stayed with me since we had it, and I need to get this out.

Have you talked to your child about racism?

I’ve never felt equipped to talk about racism to my children because I’ve experienced very little racism myself.  Gender inequality and sexism I can speak volumes to, but I’m no expert on racism. I can remember when my oldest son first learned about Rosa Parks in kindergarten and became obsessed with understanding why African-Americans were treated so unfairly. “Why did black people have to sit in the back of the bus in the first place?” he asked. I’d respond with something along the lines of “People were small minded”, “People were ignorant”, or “It’s complicated, but know that it was wrong and horribly unfair.”

Both my boys have questioned racism over the years, particularly anytime they’ve overheard a news report. “Why did the police officer shoot that man who was running away from him?” “What’s going on in Ferguson?” “Why don’t some people like Obama?” Each time, my husband and I have attempted to answer their questions, but I’ve never felt like we gave adequate responses. For me, the hardest thing I’ve had to try to explain to my children as their parent is why adults behave badly. And when I hear (or see) another adult being visibly racist its the epitome of adults behaving badly in my book. Children learn from adults, so as teachers of our children we are all responsible for racism continuing (whether we are the ones perpetrating it or standing by and letting it happen). Now, I know there are many reasons why many of us aren’t more vocal or willing to take action when we see it: we fear retaliation, we think it’s none of our business, or because we’re complacent and/or complicit; but what does that teach our kids?

Earlier this week, my son came home from school and asked “why are people still so racist?” I asked him what he was talking about, as he was clearly upset. “Shawn (who is a black friend of his) told me he was playing outside with his brothers over the weekend and a neighbor called the cops of them. They weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just playing. Why would someone do that?” he asked, then added, “He was pretty scared, but thankfully the cop told him that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t going to be arrested and not to worry about it.” I was stunned, and saddened. The only “crime” Shawn was guilty of was being black in a predominantly white part of town. I live in a liberal-minded, highly diverse city, and foolishly thought things like this didn’t still happen here. But it did. If my son had been doing the same thing his friend had, no one would have called the cops on him. I moved from sad to mad. I wanted to do something about it, but was at a loss. I had no idea who called the police. I couldn’t confront them. All I knew to do was talk to my son about what happened. I shared his anger in what happened, we talked about what Shawn must have gone through and how scary that must have been; and that what happened wasn’t right. I felt good that we acknowledged the injustice, but felt helpless to right this wrong.

I’m hate racism (the irony of this statement is not lost on me).  There’s no way to sugar coat this. It’s ugly. I don’t see the benefit in breaking each other down and holding each other back. How do we get through the hate (or fear or whatever is allowing this to continue) and get to the other side of understanding and acceptance? How do we become a culture that wants to help each other not hurt each other. I feel ill-equipped to address this beyond my family. But starting at home is exactly where it should begin, right? It starts with me as my kids’ parent. It starts with you.

How are you teaching your child to accept and care for others that are different from them?

March Madness

What does March Madness make you think of?

Basketball right? I would agree with that, up until I a few years ago when I realized March is the month where a culmination of things come together: the first flowers of Spring start to bloom, time change (Spring forward), St. Patrick’s Day, and, the NCAA basketball tournaments.

As a parent, this month always seems to go by in a flash. My boys and I were just admiring the first crocuses and daffodils of the season. Every year it seems these flowers come earlier than we expect. We braced ourselves for losing an hour of the day (and how that always seems to throw off our sleep cycle for a week) when the clock jumped an hour forward last night. The kids are excited about it being St. Patrick’s Day later this week. Always a fun day for our family to wear green, dance, be silly (by doing silly dancing in our house), and hope for good luck. And last, but certainly not least, there is the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments. It’s not a family affair yet, more of something I like to watch, but my son’s are starting to show some interest in so there is hope it will become one in future years.

Before I know it, March will be over and we’ll be into April with another flurry of events: Easter, Spring Break and dreams of summer will begin.

I’m doing my best to enjoy the ‘madness’ and not let it pass me by. Smell the flowers. Check. Spring forward. Check (I had no choice). 🙂 Dance a silly jig with my kids on St. Patty’s Day. Looking forward to it. And enjoy watching the basketball tournament — Bounce. Bounce. Check.

How are you enjoying March ‘madness’?  What family activities make up your March?

 

 

Stressed Out

Have you ever seen your child stressed out?

My boys participate in their school play. One acts in the play, the other is in stage crew. Both want to do a good job each year, all the kids do. Mistakes always happen — sometimes ones you can easily recover from (e.g. someone walks out on stage at the wrong time, but quickly gets themselves back off), some not (e.g. someone says the wrong long line and it throws everyone else off — the kids struggle with whether they should pick up at the new spot or try to get the scene restarted where it should have). For the kids it is stressful. For the parents, it’s hard to notice (because you aren’t as aware of every single line, object placement and timing of everything like those participating are), and hard to console once you’ve realized it happens (e.g. upset kids after the show).  You try saying, “You did a great job!” and “You made a mistake? Well, no one noticed” which is often times true, but to the kids, they feel embarrassed, disappointed, sad, and/or angry. I’ve had mild success in getting them to acknowledge that performing and supporting the cast, regardless of mistakes, takes guts; and that the experience is supposed to be something they enjoy not fret over. They appease me with mumble’s of “okay, Mom” or “yea, we get it,” but it’s not convincing. Once the play is over, the stress disappears replaced by relief which is interesting to tangibly see — smiles on their faces, bodies less tense, more willing to engage — it got me thinking about my husband and I and our own stresses and how that must come across to our kids.

I sometimes think I didn’t know what stress was until I became a parent — the kids are not the cause; I am. I want to be present with my kids, teach them things, have fun and enjoy parenthood. At the same time, juggling a job and the increase in household responsibilities (meals, cleaning, carpooling, etc.) requires energy which gets depleted with so many things needing to get done. Being a parent can sometimes feel like a performance too. We are moving things (much like a stage crew) and do our own ‘acting’ when we put on a brave or ‘everything’s fine’ face in front of others when we are in fact tired, strained, and stressed.  Throw on what’s going on in our country politically, and the stress can feel overwhelming. When I force myself to relax I notice that I hold my shoulders high and my jaw tensed. Amazing that I don’t realize this or feel it until I’m forced to take a few deep breaths and lower my shoulders and loosen my jaw. I wonder what that looks like to my kids seeing Mom more relaxed, more easily smiling and more willing to engage then just trying to get through to what’s next. My guess is they prefer it to stressed out Mom, who is more snippy and less present.

My kids have once again reminded me of things I need to work on. Step 1) Notice stress, Step 2) Let it go. I’m much happier (not to mention more pleasant to be around) when I do this.

How do you handle stress? How do you help your child handle theirs?

 

Name in Lights

Have you ever wished for fame?

As a child, I certainly had my moments. I’m not sure how I thought I would achieve my fame, but really liked the idea of being loved by many and being on a cover of a magazine that would be seen by everyone in the grocery store (ah, how the young mind thinks). I was in awe of people who became famous, and curious — wondering how they did it?  There was no obvious answer to me.

My oldest son wants to be famous, well, that’s not exactly true. He wants to be a professional football player (some days professional soccer player) and therefore has fame in his sights. He doesn’t understand the pitfalls of fame: loss of privacy, experiencing trust issues (and realizing not everyone has what’s best for you in mind) and a loss of freedom that most of us take for granted on any given day. He just sees the upside — playing in a big arena, with adoring fans and being on TV (a step up from being on the magazine cover I hoped to be on one day?).

The Academy Awards will be full of famous people. Many hoping their hard work will yield them recognition as being the best at their craft. I am in awe of them, much like I was when I was young. How did fame happen for them?  Hard work, sure. But many of us work hard and don’t become famous.Once someone becomes famous you can trace the path they took to get there, but no two paths are (exactly) the same. You just don’t know when fame will meet you, or if it ever will.

My son has a dream of seeing his name in lights. I get it. I felt the same way when I was his age. I don’t know if he’ll achieve fame or not, but he will set his own path. And while I don’t know how his life will unfold and if fame and he will ever cross paths, I’m excited to see where it takes him.

Is your child interested in fame?  Are they interested in seeing their name in lights?

 

 

On the Road Again

Do you travel for work?  How do you stay connected with your child and spouse while you’re away?

My travel schedule has incurred an uptick in recent years. There are parts of it that I like — meeting new people, seeing new places–and things I don’t–the long hours, being in the unfamiliar and mostly being away from my family.  Staying connected via technology has become easier, but staying really connected to what is going on at home while I’m away has not. Trying to sneak in a quick call home during a dinner break or trying to FaceTime after returning to my room after a long day often feels rushed, where I’m only getting the highlights of the day. While we all want to talk to one another, it can also feel like we’re trying to get to what happens after the call finishes: finishing work or relaxing for me; TV or homework for the kids; relaxing or cleaning up for my husband.

When I travel it isn’t easy for my husband or kids. When my husband travels it isn’t easy for my kids or me. When the daily composition of the family changes, even for a few days, interactions differ and that can be the hardest to adjust to. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s much a easier transition now that the kids are older, but there is still a noticeable impact. Almost a void we all try to fill when one of us is away.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had a long period of time where I didn’t have to travel, but that is changing. I’m trying to gear myself back up for travel mode and mentally prepare my family for it. I know they will be fine, but I still struggle with how to maintain our strong connections while I’m away.  I don’t have any good answers, but I’m going to keep working at it, and welcome insights from others who’ve discovered ways to do this while they are away.

How do you stay connected with your child and spouse while you’re away?

 

I Love You

How do you express love for one another in your family?

In our family there are the obvious signs–hugs whenever the kids will let me give them one, and kisses on the check at bedtime–and the less obvious signs–being present with them, listening to them, and trying to teach or help them with something when they are curious or struggling–love comes in many forms.

My oldest is starting to ‘outgrow’ hugs and kisses which is bittersweet. I knew this time would come. My youngest loves hugs, getting kisses on the cheek and saying, “I love you!” In fact, he enjoys saying ‘I love you’ so much, we’ve determined he means it sometimes, and other times uses it as a diversionary tactic: to delay having to set the table, or get started on homework. It’s not uncommon for you to ask him to do one of these tasks and hear in response, “Mom, I love you!” or “Dad, I love you!” While it’s very sweet, my husband and I realize what he’s up to. Still I’m amazed that he figured out how to use the phrase to his advantage at such a young age.

Getting the kids to take a bath or shower can be a struggle, particularly for our youngest. He will delay the inevitable as long as he can, then go into the bathroom and take his time getting cleaned and/or getting dressed. After a shower one morning, as I was trying to prompt him to hurry up to dry off and get dressed quickly so we could get out of the house to school and work, he didn’t fuss or simply say, “Okay, Mom.” Instead he said from the other side of the door, “I love you, Mom.” I replied, “I love you too, but we need to hurry!” After several more minutes he emerged, still with a towel around him, but with a big grin on his face. “Urgh! Why aren’t you ready?” I asked. He gestured towards the fogged-up mirror. On it I could see in his handwriting the words: To Mom, I Love You.  How could I stay mad? This time his message felt part diversionary tactic, part love letter. Regardless, I treasured his simple message. It’s not everyday your morning gets interrupted by a proclamation of love. It’s one of those moments I’ll remember forever.

When has your child caught you off-guard with their love for you?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

What Brings Us Together

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. An American tradition of coming together with family and friends and watching the big game, while enjoying rich food and celebrating competition.

Our family found the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet in recent years which airs at the same time as the Super Bowl. In the Puppy Bowl they do an animal take on the big game with puppies of different breeds playing together. And while there is some competition (e.g. which dog will finish the task first) it is more about watching these adorable animals interact. My youngest son loves puppies and anything ‘cute’ so the Puppy Bowl is a hit for him. My oldest son, husband and I found it quite cute ourselves after watching it for a few minutes. It is much more enjoyable for us than watching violent hits, boasting players and beer commercials, and I should note I actually like watching football normally. The Super Bowl just seems like a game on steroids (literally and figuratively?).

With all the chaos of the last week the Puppy Bowl got me thinking. Animals don’t differentiate between people. Animals are eager and willing to meet (and play) with people they have just met happily (unless, of course, they have been mistreated). We should take a lesson from the animals playbook.  Our pets and our love for them bring us together.  People from all races, religions, and countries love their pets. People’s love for these creatures is universal. Animals have a magical quality of meeting us where we are, and excepting us how we are without judgement. They provide love, comfort, companionship, and joy (and much more). My sons love animals and are asking us for a pet (and we’re hoping there may be some in our future). My husband and I grew up with animals and remember how important they were to us.

Puppies aren’t the only cute critters having a bowl game today. There is also the Kitten Bowl on the Hallmark Channel. My youngest is looking forward to seeing both the kittens and puppies play, and so is the rest of my family. We might tape the ‘big game’ and fast forward through to see the commercials later, and while either the Patriots or Falcons will become the Super Bowl Champions, the animals are winning out this year.

How is your family celebrating it being Super Bowl Sunday?  What do you and your family love most about animals?

 

Sing

Getting your child to do something they don’t want to is hard.

While reading the elementary school’s weekly newsletter we noticed our oldest son’s class was participating in a school concert on Friday night. When we asked our son about the concert happening, (because he hadn’t said a word about it), he shrugged his shoulders and say, “yea?” It was clear he wasn’t excited about the upcoming event.

As Friday approached, he started to voice his desire of not wanting to participate. “I don’t want to sing in the concert. None of my classmates are going to be there. It’s just going to be me!” he said. Because the concert was more of a showcase of what the kids had been learning in music class than a formal recital we honestly didn’t know how many of his classmates would be there. We didn’t want to stress him out, but we thought it was important he participate. It would be easy to sit out and not be there, but what message would that send our son?  That you can skip things that are uncomfortable in life? Or it’s okay to not show up even though others have put in time to help you learn? It felt too important, like we were going to be missing teaching him an life lesson (e.g. sometimes you have to do things in life you don’t want to do) if we didn’t make him go.

As we got closer to the concert, he became more vocal. “I don’t want to go. This is going to be so embarrassing!” I was preparing myself to have to threaten him with privileges he’d lose if he didn’t, but offered this alternative instead. “If you sing in the show, maybe even enjoy it, we might do something fun after the show. Or you can sing in the show, not enjoy yourself and show how unhappy you are about having to participate, and we can just go home. It’s your choice.” He grimaced. He had a decision to make.

The concert went fine. He had classmates there, with two that unexpectedly did dance moves during each of the songs that made for a fairly entertaining show. It loosened most of the kids up and by the third song, they seemed relaxed and enjoying themselves, even joining in with the other kids moves.  Even my son joined in. I’m pretty sure I may have even seen him smile.

At the end of the show he joined us. I asked, “So, how was it?” “Not so bad,” he responded, “can we go to the pie place?” I couldn’t help but smile myself. “Sure,” I said. We headed out and from his body language my son appeared to be both proud of himself (for doing the show), and surprised (that he actually enjoyed it). Funny how that works.

How do you handle situations where you child is reluctant to participate?

Please Stand Up

Have you ever been reluctant to take a stand on something? Or let others know how you truly feel when it might not be universally popular?

I have. I hate to admit it, but over the course of my life there have been more times than I can count where I’ve kept my mouth shut, hand down or otherwise stayed out of sight instead of saying (or showing) how I really felt for fear retaliation — judgment, embarrassment, and shame. Now for all the times I’ve stayed in the shadows or been quiet I don’t truly know what would have happened if I stood up for myself because I didn’t do it.

I can remember one of the first times I did stand up for myself. A boy on the bus decided to pick on me one day. I can’t remember what he said exactly, but it left me in tears. I got off the bus at a friend’s house and was greeted by my friend’s mom who asked what was going on. I told her about the boy and she asked me, “Why would you put up with that? You need to let him know he can’t get away with that!”  It was the first time I can remember someone telling me how to stand up for myself. It was the words I needed to take action. The next day on the bus, I went right up to the same boy and was very direct with him — I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to put up with him picking on me any longer. I don’t know if it was my tone, or what he might have viewed as aggression (I seem to recall walking very swiftly towards him with my index finger pointed squarely at his face), but he backed down and actually apologized. The experience taught me that standing up for who you are or what you believe in can be very freeing. You don’t have to stay in the shadows or feel trapped.

I am stepped out of the shadows this weekend, participating in the local Sister’s March in unity with others in my community who believe we are stronger together and that coming together is better for all. I wanted my boys to see their mom in action, standing up for something she believes in, and let my kids know they can stand up for things they believe in to (when the day comes). I felt it important they understand each of us has values and beliefs we hold dear, and we can’t let fear hold us back from taking a stand when we feel compelled to do so.

When I asked what my kids what they thought about me marching they said, “That’s pretty cool, mom.”  Standing up for myself sounds pretty cool indeed.

How do you stand up for yourself? How are you helping your child stand up for themselves?

 

I Have a Dream

What are your dreams for your child?

I’m inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream for his:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a teenager I questioned my parents on why they had had kids — the world is a tough place, why would you want to bring someone into it?  My dad said, “To leave the world a better place. You want your children to do better than you did.” I got it.  Wanting your child to be a better person, a better contributor to the world than you are is a lofty goal.  It is my dad’s dream for his own children, and I’m hoping to achieve it with my own.

It got me thinking about what my dreams are for my own children. I want them to be a better person than I am. I want them to contribute in a more meaningful way. But my dreams going even further. I too want them to live in a country where they are not judged by their outward appearance (and not judge others by their’s), but by the content of their character. I want them to appreciate the beauty all around them, even in the most common places; to care for others, to be empathic, understanding and giving; and to experience as much joy in their life as possible.

As a parent, I have to evaluate what I’m doing to make the dreams I have for my boys a reality. I can be open about my dreams with my children, and try to get them to see the benefit of the dreams I have for them, but ultimately they will have to decide which of my dreams they want adopt and make their reality.

What dreams to you have for your child?

Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr., for your inspiring words.