Lessons from the Corn Maze

Have you ever been lost?

It’s not a good feeling to be lost in an unfamiliar setting. Except, perhaps, when that unfamiliar setting is a corn maze.

We went to our favorite pumpkin patch with other family members to pick out pumpkins, snap pictures, and drink some cider. The kids wanted to do the corn maze. We’ve had varying degrees of success with corn mazes. When they were younger, we’d accompany the kids. As the children grew older they wanted to show us they could do the maze on their own. What’s the harm? we’d thought. One year four kids went in, three came out. We waited, and waited, and right around the time we were going to go in we saw my son walking through the corn. Not the maze. The corn. He had gotten so frustrated by the dead ends he’d decided he would make his own way out.

In our most recent trip, my nephew and brother-in-law went into the maze a few minutes after my boys and their older cousin had entered. We were surprised to seem them re-emerge before the older kids did. “Did you see the others?” I asked. He shook his head no. Hmmm. I wasn’t too concerned because I knew the kids would figure a way out — even if it meant walking out through the corn.

The kids finally emerged. They were laughing and at ease. “Did you all get lost?” I asked. “Yea,” my older son commented, “there were so many dead ends.” The kids walked on, un-phased by the situation they had come from. They left the maze behind without thought and walked towards wheelbarrows filled with pumpkins.

I thought about how often in life we can feel lost — the first day of school, moving to a new place, starting a new job, becoming a parent — and how you have to quickly figure out how to acclimate to make it through any discomfort you feel. There is always a way to work through being uncomfortable. Whether it’s taking a straight path (walking through the corn) or being willing to let yourself be lost for a while knowing you’ll eventually figure things out (like my kids and their cousin not letting the dead ends defeat them or dampen their experience).

How have you handled times when you felt lost? How are you helping your child acclimate when they do?

Catch and Release

Does your family have a pet? Does your pet ever bring something into the house you wish it hadn’t?

We love our cat. He brings us all kinds of joy, but lately he’s been bringing us a bit more. Mice and birds to be exact. When our cat first joined our family, he was an indoor cat. After several months, we found a pet door that would let him leave and re-enter by detecting the chip he has. We figured this would give him freedom and would keep other animals from entering. What we didn’t account for was that our cat would hunt for prey (mouse or small bird), catch it, and then carry it in. Our cat doesn’t realize it prey wasn’t dead, but playing dead in order to survive. Our cat brings in the critter, lays it on the floor, looks at us with pride (see what I did?) and when we approach, it never fails, the prey suddenly comes back to life and scampers off. Ugh!

One day, he brought a finch in in the morning and a mouse that night, my oldest son, who tends to go to bed the latest and was met with the mouse this particular evening, put his foot down. “We’re locking the cat door at night! I can’t take another animal getting in here.” My husband and I were becoming pros are catching and releasing the prey, and we too were getting tired of our cat bringing small animals in. So we did. Of course, our poor cat is thoroughly confused. The door that let him in and out at will, now doesn’t–it’s open during the day and gets locked at night (prime hunting time). His pride in catching the prey is now viewed as did I do something good or wrong? We’re working with our cat to teach him this new boundary (can you teach cats this?). It’s interesting to see us, as a family, all being on the same page with how best to address the situation. The parental power dynamic is removed and instead it’s how do we solve this together?

Raising kids reminds me of what we’re working on with our cat. You sometimes give them some freedom, and then have to reign it back in when you see either they aren’t ready for it, or it’s being abused. It helps when everyone agrees there is an issue and decides how to best address it together.

How are you giving your child more freedom? Have you ever had to reign it back in?

Zip Lining through Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Fear

What scares you that doesn’t necessarily scare others?

For me, it’s been horses. Not to see them, be near them, or even pet them. It’s riding them. I’ve been opposed to doing so most of my life.

My fear of horses came from experience. I’d gone to a two week long overnight camp when I was 10 or 11, that offered extracurricular activities. I knew a few of the girls going to camp and they suggested we all sign up for horseback riding. So I did. When we went to ride horses for the first time the camp counselors asked me my experience level. I should have said “beginner”, but instead I said, “intermediate.” I paused, did I say that to impress my friends? They all did have riding experience and I didn’t want to be left behind. “Are you sure?” The counselor asked. I think she picked up on my uncertainty. “Yes,” I said, trying to put a brave face on. “Okay,” she replied, and so I was put in the intermediate group. It was clear fast that I didn’t know what I was doing. The instructors helped me, but I could easily tell these creatures needed to be handled a certain way — a way that an experienced rider would know — needless to say, I was scared.

Every day we would ride a different horse. Most of the horses were easygoing, and relatively easy to handle. I was grateful. Then one day I was told I’d be riding Lightning. He was a bit more to handle but the instructors told me I was ready. Well, I wasn’t. I got on the horse and it took off at full speed. I was holding on for dear life and had no sense for how to slow him down. After several minutes, and with the aid of others, the horse finally calmed down and I was able to safely get down, but not without feeling traumatized. I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. I was told by the counselors what happened wasn’t my fault, but I was done with horses. Done. Until this year.

We had scheduled to visit some of the National Parks (Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce). My husband wanted to set us up for some ‘experiences’ for the family while on the trip. One was going to the Antelope Slot Canyon and doing a tour. Another was doing horseback in Bryce Canyon. I had a decision to make — continue to be scared of riding horses for the rest of my life or face my fear. I thought it was time to address it, and an opportunity to show my kids that anyone can conquer a fear at any age.

We got to the stable the morning of our ride. I was given the tallest horse in the group. Gulp. They helped me on the horse. I was scared, but I saw my sons ahead of me on their horses. They seemed calm, I figured I should project calmness myself. ūüėä

The horses started down the canyon. I felt like a giant rocking back and forth so high in my saddle. Our wrangler was good — very straightforward, knowledgeable and encouraging. He helped build both my sons confidence in riding and mine. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon my fear had subsided and we were all enjoying ourselves.

When we returned to the stable, we got off our horses. “What did you think?” I asked my boys. “I was scared at first, but after a while I really enjoyed it,” one son said. “Me too,” the other chimed in, “I’d definitely do that again.” I decided to come clean with my boys. I hadn’t said a word about my fear of riding as I didn’t want them to take on my fear. “I think I overcame my fear of riding horses today,” I said. “You were scared?” they asked. I told them the story of camp and shared how it was likely the difference in the immaturity of the camp counselors (who couldn’t have been more than 17-18 at the time) and our wrangler who was mature and wise regarding horses that made the difference. “Mom thought it’d be a good idea to show you you can overcome fears, and try things again, even if you haven’t done it for decades.” My boys just smiled. I smiled too. Any fear we had was behind us. It was a good day for us all.

How do you help your child work through fear?

All That is Green

Has your child ever felt overwhelmed?

My youngest son came home from a bad school day. His teacher had sent an email alerting us before the end of the day that our son struggled with an assignment the class was given — to write about how to help the environment.

When he got home I asked how his day was. “Okay,” he said. “Really?,” I replied, “I was under the impression you didn’t have a great day.” He could have asked how I knew he’d had a bad day, but instead said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Okay,” I said, “but it’s going to be hard for me to help you if you won’t talk about it.” He sighed, “Maybe later.”

We got some dinner. Once he had food in his belly, I asked if he was ready to talk. He wasn’t, so I gave him a choice. “We can talk about this on the way home in the car, or when we get home, but we are taking about it.” He agreed to discuss it on the car ride home.

He started off, “This is very upsetting. I really don’t want to talk about it.” “What is making you so upset?”, I asked. “The future,” he said. Okay, that’s a broad topic, I thought. “What about the future are you most worried about?” “Well, everything,” he replied. “How does your fear about the future have to do with your assignment on the environment?” I asked. He didn’t say ‘duh’ but he might as well have. “Mom, were not doing enough to protect the environment and it’s only going to get worse. And I mean really, really bad.” Aha, I thought, climate change is showing itself in more extreme weather and there is right to be concerned about it getting worse in the future, but that is true only if we don’t acknowledge the problem and do something about it. “Okay, I think I better understand.” It took some more going back and forth before I fully understood that my son was getting overwhelmed by the assignment thinking he had to figure out how to solve all the problems, versus finding simpler doable solutions that could have a positive impact. By the time we parked the car at home he felt better, was more relaxed and seemed ready to rethink how to tackle the assignment. “Picking up trash, helps the environment. Saving water. Conserving energy. Composting.” I could tell he was thinking.

Getting overwhelmed doesn’t feel good at any age. It’s being about to break down what’s causing into smaller chunks that are easier to deal with. Helping you see the forest through the trees.

I’m glad my son is concerned about the environment. I hope this assignment prompts he and his classmates not only to think about it, but to take action and inspire others (including their parents perhaps?) to join in and do even more.

What are you and your child doing to help the environment?

Kid Pride

What makes you proud?

My youngest son starred as Aslan, the lion, in his school’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He has participated in school plays each year, and has had speaking parts, but this year’s role was as one of the lead characters meant more lines to memorize, and more pressure to get things right.

We rehearsed the lines over a few weeks. I was impressed at how much he had learned on his own, and really enjoyed working with him on his lines– it made me feel like I was helping him in some way.

Following the final rehearsal he came out of the dressing room looking down. I could tell he needed some space. I know how tense it can be in the final days of practice and thought maybe some of his fellow actors, or the director had given him some feedback he didn’t want to hear. When we were close to leaving the building we saw the director, who asked my son if he would come early the next night so he and the other leads could work on a couple of scenes. My son broke down. “I’m not having fun anymore. I don’t want to do this.” I was caught off guard by the comment and was thinking how do I get him back onboard? Aslan not being in the play.would be noticed. ūüėä Thankfully, the director approached my son in a way that indicated this wasn’t the first time one of her actors had second thoughts about their role. “What’s going on?,” she asked. “People are going to laugh at me. The other actors aren’t taking the play seriously. It’s going to be horrible.” The director gave a knowing look as if she’d had this conversation with many others in the past, and reminded him of plays from previous years “other times we were a lot less prepared than we are now and everything turned out fine.” She spent more time talking my son through the moment, giving other examples about actors who were nervous or stressed or didn’t think others were taking things as seriously. She finished by telling him how important he was to her. “You’ve been acting for me for years, and have grown so much. You don’t realize it now, but you’ve got this. You’re going to do great tomorrow.” She reminded him of the first play he did for her, Elephant and Piggy. He laughed remembering his part from long ago. His demeanor changed. He left the dark cloud he’d been under and seemed to move to a lighter brighter one.

Opening night he was in better spirits. He was relaxed, and seemed more ready. He nailed the performance. I realize I’m his mom, but I’m not sure anyone could have done a better job than he did. All family members who were there couldn’t have been prouder of him, but I don’t think that mattered. What did was that he realized what he was capable of, and that he was proud of himself, and nothing feels as good as that.

What makes your child proud?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. ūüėä We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

A Death in the Family

How do you explain death to a child?

My uncle recently passed away after his health had been declining for a while. He was a wonderful man, and an amazing uncle who was an important part of my life, but knowing that he is no longer in pain gives me some peace.

My boys had met and visited their great uncle a handful of times. Twice this past year. When I realized my uncle didn’t have long to live I let the boys know. My oldest said, “That’s sad.” My youngest had a much stronger reaction. “He’s going to die?” His eyes watered as he began to cry. After a few minutes he said, “I didn’t think I would experience death this early.” We talked about my uncle and I explained that it was okay to cry, normal to cry, but to remember the good life my uncle had had, and how lucky we were for knowing him. It seemed to ease my son’s pain, but I knew his tears were a combination of both my uncle’s passing and the realization that everyone will eventually die. It’s hard to come to terms with that when you’re young. I remember having a similar realization around his age and how sad, angry and scared it made me.

Death is hard to explain. Grieving is unique to the individual and situation. I hope my son doesn’t dwell on death, and his loved ones mortality, but do hope he’ll share how he’s experiencing and processing the loss of this loved family member so we can help him work through his grieving.

How have you helped your child work through the pain and emotions of losing a loved one?

Object vs. Equal

How do you experience your value?

As a child, I would tell you I experienced my personal worth or value when I did something I was proud of — worked hard to accomplish a difficult task, tried something I was afraid of, or pushed myself to get even better at something I was already skilled at. While I was personally proud, being acknowledge by others, particularly my parents and peers, went a long way in how I saw myself and what I had to offer others. Another way I was valued was by conversations I used to have with my father as I got older. He would often pull me aside to help me through a difficult situation. He would talk to me, give me his perspective and then remind me what I brought to the situation. He told me how he “saw” me and the value I had to offer, the value I didn’t necessarily see in myself.

My oldest son questions his value. He feels this particularly as it applies to the¬†opposite sex. As we encourage him to explore being friends with girls, maybe¬†even¬†test the waters¬†of having a relationship, he is vehemently against it.¬†He isn’t willing to reach out because he concretely¬†believes he will be rejected. As he puts it, “what do I have to offer?”, “I not good enough for them,” so “what could they possibly see in me?” I don’t know that I was able to verbalize these sentiments until I was much older and after much therapy. This got me asking myself when do we start viewing ourselves as objects vs. equals? Things vs. beings that have value. I was acknowledged by my parents, I believe I had experiences where they tried to get me to understand my value outside of my physical self. Yet, here is my son, a smart, nature-loving, athletic¬†kid¬†that struggles with his self-worth.

I¬†felt the spotlight that others assigned a value to my outward exterior most intensely in middle school. My weight fluctuated¬†as I entered puberty. Growth spurts, moving from one state to another,¬†and the¬†loss of a familiar summer sport (I moved to a¬†city that was small and didn’t¬†have a¬†swim team)¬†contributed to my weight struggle. I didn’t know why I wasn’t thin like my siblings. I would have done anything to be. Diet, shame and self-hate never seemed to produce the body that I wanted. It was a burden I carried for decades and only in recent years have I¬†begun to unravel and loosen its grip on me. I would do anything, and I mean anything to help my children avoid this. I’m not sure how to do this, other than diets are a no-go for my kids (healthy eating and getting them moving/exercising — check, putting them on a diet — not gonna happen), to continue to expose them to¬†object vs. equal type thinking of themselves and others — the trappings and how¬†easy they are to fall into; and how to recognize them, avoid them and choose a more enlightened and less self-defeating path.

I have to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to my sons about these things. I caught my sons recently when they mentioned how “hot” a TV personality was.¬†Thankfully we were in¬†our house¬†without anyone outside our family¬†around. “That is a person playing a role,” I chided. “How do you¬†think they would feel if¬†they knew you only thought about them in how they look on the outside?” My¬†boys didn’t¬†like that I had¬†‘caught’ them in object thinking.¬†“Well, Mom, lots of people think she looks hot, it’s not just us,” one son replied. “That’s the problem,” I continued, “if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you’ll continue to do so. This causes damage when people only¬†see their worth based on what others see on the outside and don’t spend time to get to know what’s on the inside. Do you understand?” “Yes,” they chimed in unison.

This isn’t an easy lesson to teach. We are bombarded with messages that we are only as good as our outward appearance, there are industries built on us buying into this. It’s our job as parents to be aware of these pervasive and consistent untruths that¬†are being told. And help our children combat them.

How are you combating object messaging your child receives? How are you combating messaging that values only your or your child’s outside appearance?

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?