An Olympic Impact

Are you watching the Winter Olympics with your child?

While my children normally prefer to watch cartoons, I’ve been able to slowly but surely get them to watch the Olympics with my husband and I. We started with curling and cross country skiing, I couldn’t hold their attention. Skating caught their eye, “Wow, they make it look so easy,” my oldest commented. Snowboarding, the half-pipe in particular, captured their attention. Watching Chloe Kim and Shaun White win gold was pretty amazing. Getting the kids to stay tuned beyond that has been much simpler. They are now interested in watching downhill, luge, and ski jumping. They are slowly but surely getting into the Olympics.

Of course, I’m reminded of my own Olympic dreams when I was a kid. Swimming was my sport and I just knew one day I’m make the games. I wonder what impact watching the Olympics will have on my kids. Will watching inspire them to have new Olympic dreams?

There is something special about the Olympics. You see passion, dedication, and sacrifice. You see people’s dreams come true or crashing down. It can be a roller coaster of emotions for the athlete and the viewer. What it gave me as a kid was a dream — a vision for what I could do and who I could be (Olympian) — I never made it that far, but the child in me always treasures the dream for what it was. I learned that while the athletes make their respective sports look easy, it’s the long hours of hard work, failures and getting up and trying to get better over and over again that elevates them to their elite levels, and that in life to excel and exceed you have to push yourself to be your best over and over again very much like an Olympic athlete.

I wonder what my kids will take from the Olympics.

Are your kids into the Olympics? What impact do you think the Olympics will have on them?

Love at 10

What did you think love was when you were 10?

I only knew love at 10 in two forms: real – love from my parents; family and the occasional nod from the family pet; and what I thought love was supposed to be – what I saw on TV,  and in movies. I can remember my first crush at nine — a classmate in my 3rd grade class. I liked him not only because he was handsome, but because I thought he was nice and we could easily talk at school. I didn’t get flustered or conscientious when I was around him, he seemed to like me for me. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. I was fearful that if I said anything he might reject the idea of us (and therefore me), and didn’t want to risk it. I hoped he might feel the same way and also be struggling with how to share his feelings, but I found out soon enough, that was not the case, when he asked a classmate and close friend of mine to be his girlfriend. I was, in fact, crushed, and if memory serves me right, I voiced this to him. I recall a brief exchange where he wanted me to talk to him about problems he was having with his girlfriend — I heard him out, told him I had no clue how to help him, and ensured I caught his eye. “This wouldn’t have happened with me,” I said (wow, where did I get the guts to say that? I thought). His eyes widened ever so briefly as he had an ‘aha’ moment, he maintained eye contact, smiled a big understanding smile as though he liked the thought (I smiled back), then almost as quickly broke eye contact, cast his head down and frowned realizing the situation he was in. It was nice to understand for a brief moment that maybe he felt the same way I did, and just didn’t know how to express himself.  In my youth, I was always disappointed we weren’t able to maintain the friendship we’d previously had after that point. I moved away a year later and that was that.

My youngest, thankfully, is way ahead of where I was at when I was 10. His Asperger’s gives him clarity on what he likes and doesn’t like, and the ability to voice his opinion without any hesitation (it can be an inspiration and strength in certain situations; a challenge we have to work to overcome in others). He decided this year for Valentine’s Day he wanted to do something with his ‘girlfriend’. Instead of us parents commiserating and deciding where the kids go and what they do, we left it up to them. “Why don’t you call her and ask her what she’d like to do?” I suggested. My husband role-played the phone call with my son to prepare him. He called her and the exchange was pretty priceless. He asked her what she wanted to do, she suggested going to the Aquarium and my son said, “I could be okay with that. I don’t really care where we go. I super-duper don’t really care.” Okay, so we have some work to do on phone etiquette. He hung up the phone and we realized he hadn’t confirmed a time and logistical details. He called back and finalized the afternoon with her. We talked about what he wanted to get her for Valentine’s Day after. He said ‘a card’ and I offered that we might get her something in addition to the card. His thoughts went to candy, mine went a different direction. “What about a wrist corsage,” I asked, “Its small flowers that you can wear on your wrist. She likes flowers, do you think she might like something like that?” My son smiled. “Yes, she would. Let’s get her that!” Okay, so I intervened a little on this one — guiding him to get the girl a present I probably would have flipped over when I was her age.

My son is very clear on what he likes — family, cats and anyone who is nice to others; geography and pretty much everything associated with it; acting/drama; drawing; and his girlfriend. There is no waffling, uncertainty, or ability for anyone not to understand how he feels. It’s a clarity I wished I had more fully owned when I was his age. Clarity around who and what you love seems to make life so much easier.

What does your child love?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

One Day At A Time

How do you handle stressful situations?

This year has been off to a somewhat stressful start for our family. My job has evolved and I’ve taken on more responsibility. My oldest picked up new classes and is feeling the stress of higher demands on his abilities and performance. And we got a cat (but you already know that).

Early in January, I was having moments where the new responsibilities were too many and coming at me too fast. In those moments I’d feel overwhelmed, and experience a wide range of emotion from fear–can I handle everything that is being given to me? to anger–why is this happening me? to hope — okay, I think I can do this; only to find myself repeating this loop over and over. It was exhausting.

My oldest was going through the same. Taking on assignments that were pushing his comfort level. Due dates that seemed aggressive. Grades hanging in the balance. He too was dealing with a range of emotion from fear — how am I doing to do this? to anger — why are they asking me/making me do this? to hope — okay, maybe I can figure this out. The same loop repeating over and over, and just like his mom, he was finding it exhausting.

In moments of stress, we seek out coping mechanisms. All my former coping mechanisms were not having the intended affect. Food — no thanks, no appetite — I’m too stressed. Meditation — okay I’m meditating, but I’m only slightly less tense after doing so. Giving myself a break — too tense and overwhelmed to even consider it. I had a moment of clarity when I was discussing my situation with a peer. “I’ve got to just take it one day at a time,” I said. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like a light turned on. Part of my struggle was that I kept jumbling everything I had to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. into the ‘have-to-do’ compartment of my brain which was setting off my ‘help-I’m-overwhelmed’ alarm bells. When I said it outloud, I could almost immediately feel the stress diminishing. One day at a time. I can handle this. Just focus on today. Not tomorrow or the day after that. Just today.

After having this ephiphany I shared it with my son. When he next shared how stressed he was, I asked him what he had to get done that day — not the next or the following, just that day. When he replied with items he had to do he had a similar reaction. He even smiled and said, “I can do that, mom.”

His relief matched mine. I’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time” a million times, but never really took it to heart, until now…when I had to.

How do you cope with stressful situations? How do you help your child cope when they are stressed?

Learning Together

What are you teaching your child?

As a parent, I’ve always felt my role is mainly comprised of two things: to teach my children things (how life works, how to be a good citizen, how to prosper, etc.) and to keep them safe. I’ve been keenly aware since becoming a parent, that while my husband and I are doing most of the teaching (in addition to their formal education and instructors), we’re also learning from each child–each is different, has varying needs and ways in which they learn–so we can help them thrive.

My husband and I became increasingly aware that we were going to need to increase our knowledge of kids on the autism spectrum after our youngest was diagnosed. He has always done well academically, but struggled socially. He has a happy disposition, and people generally like him, but he is challenged with making meaningful and lasting connections. In doing some research I came across a book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules — The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. My son and I started reading it together. For me, it was like shining a light in a dark space. I started to understand the true challenges my son faces and why. For the first time, I started to get a much better understanding of how my son’s brain works. I wasn’t the only one who was learning. My son started to get a much better picture of what we’ve been trying to teach him and why.

The book references those that are high-functioning as Aspie’s, and those that are not on the spectrum as Neuro-typical (NT). Oh, how I love that difference. It provides an alternative to speaking of behaviors in terms other than normal and abnormal. My son is a pretty normal kid with the exception that his brain is wired to think and process information differently. My son and I have been learning together. We are having ‘aha’ moments where we are understanding each other and social situations described in the book more clearly. My son even had a moment of self-reflection where he realized how he’d handled a situation as an “Aspie” vs. a “NT”, and how he might handle the same situation differently in the future.

While I have always prided myself on being a good teacher to my child, I’m finding more satisfaction learning together. I need to learn more. Learning together now, while I can still help my child as he grows, feels like winning the lottery. Thank you to Jennifer for this book. For the light bulb moment, and more that will come. Not just for my family, but hopefully for many others.

What are you teaching your child? How are you learning from or with your child to help them as they grow?

On the Road (Again)

Do you have to travel for work?

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

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

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

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

A New Member of the Family

How did you acclimate to a new member joining your family?

It’s not an easy transition, right? My family has recently expanded. No, not with another child, but with a pet. A nine month old cat from our local animal shelter. Our family has been talking about getting an animal for a while. The kids were hoping for a pet for Christmas, but there was just too much going on, and we told the kids not to expect one so they wouldn’t get their hopes up. Following the holidays we revisited the idea of getting a pet. My husband and I agreed there would probably never be an ideal time to get an animal (there’s always something that is going to be on), but if we wanted the kids to experience the joy and responsibility of raising an animal the time was now. So we got in the car and headed to the shelter with two very excited kids.

I should have known when we walked into the shelter that we would be walking out with a pet, but foolishly thought we’d just look and have time to continue to prepare before bringing one home.  The kids saw the cat, everyone thought the cat was a good fit, so the cat got a new home…with us. My husband and I both grew up with pets. Our respective pets lived mainly outdoors. Living in a high traffic area with cold and damp weather, our cat will be an indoor pet so we needed to quickly prepare for our new arrival. Conveniently, there was an pet store practically next door just waiting for folks like us to come on in. 🙂 We grabbed everything we thought we would need, headed back to the shelter, got our cat and headed home. We scrambled to get prepared, but running over to a pet store and stocking up on supplies might get you physically prepared, but not mentally prepared. If the cat had come in, liked where the food and water was, found an easy place to sleep, etc. it would have been wonderful. But like any new member of the family, there was going to be an adjustment period. We were ready for starting the cat off in a small space (thanks to the shelter’s guidance). We weren’t ready for the cat’s near constant meowing once it was in our house, or for the cat to reject the kitty litter and go outside the box (yep, got to experience that on day one), my husband and I learned that while we knew a lot about raising animals, we still have more to learn.

I went to bed the first night thinking what have we done? What have we gotten ourselves into? I woke early the next morning thinking are we really ready to be this cat’s caregivers? I was taken back to when I first became a mom. Regardless of the long preparation (9 months) while the baby was growing inside me, I still felt ill-prepared when my son first came home. I’d taken classes, asked questions, gotten the house ready, but still I had the same questions…what have we done and gotten ourselves into? Are we going to be good parents?

I know it will take a while for our cat to adjust to our home and us, and us him. The kids love the cat and the cat is quickly taking to the kids. Pets played a big role growing up. I can recall my pets giving a sympathetic ear when I was down, or sitting in my lap just when I needed someone. Pets are magical in that way, and I hope my kids will have the same experience as I.

Are you a pet owner? How did your family adjust to having a new pet?

 

New (Year) Insights

Do you have a resolution for the New Year?

I am continuing to become smarter about my youngest son who has high functioning autism (better known as Asperger’s syndrome) and plan to continue to do so in the New Year. I don’t know that I would call it a resolution per se, but I feel like I’m an ostrich pulling my head out of the sand finally. I think talking more openly about my son being on the spectrum has empowered me to be more open, proactive, and grateful for the information I am coming across — lectures, videos, books — I am not alone in trying to educated myself and am thankful so many others are doing such great work in this space.

One of my son’s spectrum traits comes across in his passion for geography. He is not just interested in geography but fixated on it. He can name practically every country in the world, tell you little known facts and provide insights into the country’s flag, population and more. In his mind, he has already mapped out his future (literally and figuratively). He has had a friend/fiancé since he was 7 and decided when his friend got engaged that they would live in NYC when they get married at 25 (it still makes me smile to think that they came up with that all on their own at such a young age). Since then, his love (fixation) on geography has grown and he has become borderline obsessed with moving to Australia. To a small remote town on the east coast of the country. My husband and I are not sure how he found the city exactly (we’ve never been there), but he didn’t pick it willy nilly. He clearly put some thought into it and has big ideas for this town — he’ll be a teacher, or he’ll build a new building, or maybe be the mayor. At the end of the day, he sees himself positively impacting this town. That’s hard to argue with, however, I had to get my son to think about his girlfriend. He knows he wants to go to this town and live there someday, but what about her. Would she?

“What if she gets a job somewhere else?” I asked him, “Or doesn’t want to live there? What will you do then?” He got sad. He cried and I was sad I’d upset him, but I wanted to make sure he understood in any relationship both people have a say, and where you live is an important decision you have to make together. After he had somewhat calmed down he started saying, “I’m a bad person. I’m a bad person.” This worried me. Why was he saying this? I asked him to talk to me and explain what he was saying. “I just realized that I don’t give her enough of my time,” he said. “Your girlfriend?” I asked. “Yes. The way my mind works, I have these thoughts and I really like thinking my thoughts. And there isn’t a lot of room for me to think about other peoples thoughts. And it’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because my mind really, really, really wants to think about what it wants to think about. Like moving to Australia. I can’t imagine not moving there but I hadn’t thought about her not wanting to move there too, and that makes me a bad person.” Before I could respond he continued, “It’s like if you think of my mind like a pie. I want to think about what I want to think about 95% of the time. That only leaves 5% for other people.” He paused then continued on, “That’s the problem with having friends. I want to have friends, but my mind doesn’t have space for them.” Whoa, I thought, I just got some very valuable insights into my son. I was blown away by his self-awareness and his ability to articulate the way he sees his mind working. I told him as much then I tried to get him to rethink how he could broach the subject with his friend, who happens to be visiting Australia presently. “Why don’t you ask her what she thought of the country? See what you can learn from her about it, and see if she might be interested in living there one day,” I suggested. “And you’re not going to live there for quite a while, you never know where life will take you. Maybe you’ll get a chance to visit there, or maybe even go to school there.” My son seemed to perk up as the conversation went along, “Yes!” he said, “maybe I can visit or spend some time there and check it out. And maybe she can come visit and then we can decide from there.” I loved that he was figuring out how this could potentially work.

My son continues to surprise me. I have thought my son’s relationship with this girl would have ended a while ago, but it’s continued to go on three + years. I know the likelihood that they’ll end up married and living in this remote Australian city is slim, but I love how big my son is dreaming. I love that he is better understanding himself and is willing to share how his mind works, and is open (at least starting to be) that he may have to build some new muscles if he wants to keep this relationship and have it grow.

I look forward to the New Year and the insights I will gain.

What do you hope to gain in the New Year?

Giving til it Hurts

Which do you prefer during the holiday season — giving or receiving?

I have a heightened sense of my spending during the holiday season. Toys for the kids, gifts for friends and family. It can all add up quickly. Add on charities and the desire to help others, and it becomes the time of year money seems to leave my pocket too easily. I love the joy the gifts bring to my loved ones, and how donations can help others, but do not necessarily look forward to the pending credit card statement that follows.

My oldest son decided he wanted to get a gift, with his own money, for his younger brother. He accompanied me to the mall so he could get some ideas. My youngest son is into geography and when we came across a map store we knew we wouldn’t leave the mall empty-handed. The store was filled with amazing gifts — maps of every country, globes, travel books, pictures, and more. It was a bit overwhelming. He decided to get his brother a map of Australia. My youngest has always shown an interest in visiting there. The map cost $25. There was a cheaper version of the same map, but the one he had chosen was lamented and would last for much longer. He took the map up to the counter, looked at me and said, “Am I really paying for this?” To which I responded, “Yes.” You could see his inner turmoil — wanting to get his brother something he would love, but struggling with parting with his money. He took a deep breath, pulled out his money and handed it over to the cashier. As we walked out of the store he leaned over and said, “That hurt.” “What hurt?,” I asked. “Spending that much money,” he replied. I understood what he meant, sometimes, even when we want to be generous, it can make us feel uncomfortable — especially when you’ve worked hard for the money and saved it over a long period of time as he had. We walked out of the store, and my son immediately headed to a sports store. He found a cap he wanted, went to the cashier without even looking at the price of the cap and had them ring him up. This time the total came up closer to $40. $40 for a cap? I thought. I would think twice before dropping that much money on a hat…it seems like a rip-off. Yet, my son was perfectly happy to part with that much money for it. I couldn’t help but contrast the two situations — one was about being selfless and giving, the other was about self satisfaction. One caused him angst and one didn’t phase him. Interesting.

When I was a child, I really liked getting gifts at Christmas. I didn’t learn about the joy of giving until I was a teen and finally had enough money to spend on others. I can remember saving up my money to buy my sister a leather jacket. It was expensive — way more than I could really afford (and wouldn’t have been able to without the concept of lay-away), but there was something that really drove me to get it for her: 1) I really wanted to see the surprise and joy on her face, and 2) prove to myself that I could buy gifts like this for someone else — and a thrill in my fiscal abilities. Wow, I was just able to figure out how to finance a nice present without going into debt. It felt great! I wondered what drove my son to part with his money. As an observer, it felt more like something he wanted to do, but he didn’t like the feeling of spending his hard earned money. Giving shouldn’t hurt, or give you pause or cause you angst. I do hope one day he’ll experience the joy in giving — and that parting with your money can actually feel good through and through.

Happy Holidays! I will be off for the next few weeks to spend time with family and friends and will be back in January.

The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone. As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others. I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force my wants and needs on him, but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?

Each of us has a little Mr. Burns in us

Have you ever had your child make an observation that was both insightful and hilarious?

My boys have recently been exposed to The Simpsons. I’ve watched The Simpsons most of my adult life and attempted not to expose them to it for as long as possible. I remember my mom,  who was an elementary teacher, wasn’t a fan — she didn’t like the show and what it was ‘teaching‘ the kids (particularly Bart being rude to his father, principal Skinner, teachers, etc.). As a younger person, I thought my mom was overreacting to the show, but as a parent and seeing how influenced kids are by what they see (my boys included), I got it. I’ve always enjoyed the show, but felt my boys needed to be a little older so they would understand right from wrong and appreciate that this is a cartoon, not an acceptable way to act in real life.

After many conversations about it with their father and I, we finally allowed our kids to watch an episode. They were instantly hooked. My oldest in particular. He loves the situations the characters get themselves into and out of, the relationships between the characters and the humorous way they take on topics (political or otherwise). Side note: did you know there was an episode that predicted Donald Trump would be President (Bart to the Future, which first aired in 2000)? Yikes! I’m sure I thought that idea was hilarious in 2000 — not so much anymore.  Regardless, I didn’t remember that episode until my son watched it.

My family and I were in the car together coming home. My oldest asked why people do mean things to each other? After my husband and I attempted to explain why this happens — one person feels hurt or doesn’t like what the other person is doing, or they are feeling bad about something (maybe themselves) and take that out on someone else, or sometimes they do mean things because they can (get away with it) — my son interrupted us with a keen observation. “We all have a little Mr. Burns in us, don’t we?” He continued, “Mr. Burns only thinks about himself and what he wants. He doesn’t think or care about how his actions will effect others.” When he finished, I asked my younger son, “What do you think about what your brother just said?” He replied, “Excellent” in his best C. Montgomery Burns voice. Oh my goodness, did that make all of us laugh.

As we enter the holiday season, we can feel rushed, hurried, and frazzled, but this time of year is supposed to be joyous, festive, and a time of kindness. I thought my son’s insights were spot on when he enlightened me that we all have a little Mr. Burns in us. We do. Especially when times are stressful (particularly this time of year), or we just want things to go a certain way (our way?).  It’s up to us what we do with it.

How do are you handling the busyness of the season? How do you handle stress (and perhaps your inner-Mr. Burns) during this time of year?