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!

 

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?

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?

 

Kids Choice – Dealing With Loss

When have you had to console your child when they experience loss and there is no way to soften the impact? It’s heart wrenching, right?

I had one of those moments on Tuesday night. While I was shocked as the results were coming in (and trying to handle my confusion and intense disappointment as discretely as I could), I wasn’t expecting my kids reaction. When I went to tuck them in, my youngest asked me if Hillary won. I told him “it doesn’t look like it.” He got fear in his eyes. He started to cry in a way I’ve never seen. What he said next jarred me. He didn’t say, “Why?” or “How could this happen?” That would have been expected. Instead he said, “Oh my gosh. We’re going to go to war! The country is going to be so bad.” War? I thought. Where did that come from? He’s really scared to think we are going to war. And how in the world did he grasp my own fears? That our country is taking a huge step backwards for women and minorities, the sick, the poor and mentally ill and all other marginalized groups. My older son joined in the conversation, he was equally distressed. “Why can’t kids vote? We never would have let someone like him be President.” My son made a good point.

Children have a wonderful inability to filter themselves when they are young. And they have an even greater ability to filter through BS. Politically correct is, well, not in their vocabulary. While there are certainly situations where you can grimace as a parent for what your child said out loud, there is something very straightforward about their views. They see things for what they truly are and convey them in black and white terms: you are nice, you are not nice; you are good, you are bad; etc. This ability came through Tuesday night. “I hate that I’m not allowed to vote until I’m 18. That’s ridiculous. If you asked the kids, none of us would ever vote for someone who was so mean, hateful and a bully!” my oldest said. While there was a big part of me that wanted to join in and bash the results and those who voted for the other side, I could tell what my kids most needed was for someone to tell them that everything is going to be okay, even though as their parent, and a woman, I’m not sure I believe it.

“It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this,” I said. My youngest son didn’t buy it. He looked me in the eyes with that same terror pleading me to tell him I was kidding, or somehow the election results were going to turn out differently.  I didn’t know what else to do but to hug him. We were both experiencing a huge unexpected loss. We both felt the impact, and while they say time heals all wounds, this seems like a wound that will be opened for the next four years at a minimum.

I am grateful for educators at my kids school that brought the kids together to talk through the results and let the students voice their opinions to help them deal with their feelings. I am grateful for where I live and how people here are willing to stand up and say #notmypresident. And that many business leaders and local government officials have publicly said that won’t tolerate discrimination and hate, and are trying to give grieving adults the same message I gave my boys — we’ll get through this somehow. We just have to stick together.

Sometimes you can’t make sense of things, and sometimes you have to figure out how to make the best of a situation. I love the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” There feels like a lot of darkness right now and I, as a parent, need to figure out how to light a candle. I can’t let an election determine how my neighbors, or my kids classmates and their families are treated, we all are more alike than different and we all have to figure out how to come together and work together. No more division, no more fear.

How do you console your child when you are in an inconsolable situation, regardless if its the loss of a loved one or the results of an election?  How are you helping your child when you are experiencing your own grief?

 

Parenthood – Cracking the Code

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

A good friend recently had a baby and was asking for advice and my take on her baby’s progress. The baby, who had once been a good sleeper, was now sleeping in short stints which concerned her.  As we talked about the situation she shared how much she craves learning parenting tricks-of-the-trade, in hopes of shortening the length of time she continues to feel anxiety as a new parent, and fearing she is somehow unknowingly doing wrong by her child simply because she doesn’t know everything.

“No one knows everything,” I told her, “No matter how long you parent. Much like you’re child is learning, so are you. But let’s think about what insights I can share that might help.” I don’t know if I came up with anything profound. I think I shared what most parents do…what worked for them.  “The bouncy ball was a miracle worker for me and getting my son to sleep.” “Rubbing the baby’s back helped calm him down.” “Swaddling stopped him from startling himself.” It was frivolous insight. It was my experience and what had worked for me. I decided instead to turn the conversation back to what seemed more truthful and valuable. “Parenting is hard and scary, and what you are feeling is normal. I wish there were shortcuts, but everyone’s parenting experience is different. You will get through this phase with your child and their sleeping pattern, and then something new will come up and you’ll figure that out as well. If you make your decisions based on what you think is best for you and your family, you are probably doing just fine.” I knew she was hoping I was going to give her some silver bullets around how to get through parenting, but in my time as one, I’ve never seen two parenting experiences that were the same.

I admire my friend’s desire to be the best parent she can as fast as she can be, and look forward to watching her son grow, and her as a parent. As much as she thinks she may be learning from me (and others), I will be learning from her too. It’s reinvigorates me as a parent to see a new parent starting from scratch. I’m reminded of my own anxiety from way back then and how far I’ve come. I am grateful to those who helped share their advice and insights along the way that helped me be a better parent and look forward to continuing to gain knowledge from others who are further along in their journeys than I.

What advice has helped you as a parent? What advice have you shared with others that helped them?

 

 

Stormy Weather

Does your child get upset by thunder and lightning?

When I was a child, I hated it and would run to my parents room whenever thunder clapped or lightning flashed. The loud noises scared me and I coveted the safety of my parents arms. I just wanted to know everything was going to be okay.

This weekend in the Pacific NW they are forecasting stormy weather–high winds, power outages and lots of rain. My boys are anxious about what the weekend weather will bring, but instead of waiting for the storm to approach and wanting my husband and I to comfort them, they are proactively preparing for it. Our youngest instructed us to keep everything plugged in that we needed battery power for, in case we do lose power. Our oldest made sure we have enough food to hold us over for a few days, I filled up the car with gas and my husband cleared the storm drains as precautions. The kids have even come up with ideas for ways to pass the time should we need to stay indoors without electricity: watch a movie on the DVD player, play board games, or tell each other stories. While I’d prefer to not lose power, there is a part of me that is looking forward to wreathing the storm together as a family.

Stormy weather can be unsettling, unpredictable and scary. While the thought of volatile weather isn’t fun to think about, I feel like my family is as prepared as we can be. It’s comforting to know we’ll weather whatever the storm brings together.

How does your child handle stormy weather? How does your family weather the storm?

Breaking Out of Your Shell

When was the last time you did something that forced you to break through your comfort zone?

Sometimes in life you’re afforded the opportunity to build up the courage to do something new or uncomfortable, and sometimes you’re forced. Becoming a parent, was by far, one of those experiences that felt forced, though I had tried to prepare. In order to be the mother of my son, I couldn’t just birth him. I had to break through who I was before to become the parent I now was, and learn how to handle all the responsibilities, joys, struggles and growth that go along with it. It felt like I was learning to walk, but with a new pair of legs. It took some getting used to, and at times felt very scary. If I could have crawled back into that protective shell, even for a little while, it would have been tempting.

I was asked to talk during an upcoming Children’s Time about something “egg-related” (keeping with the theme of Spring and Easter). I thought about how we all experience breaking out of our shell. We break out of our first “shell” when we are birthed, and break out of our shell through out life — sometimes by choice, sometimes by need. Every time we do try something new, particularly something hard that doesn’t come easy. We are breaking out of our ever-changing shell.

My youngest son has moments when he can convince himself that he can’t do something — the range is wide and goes from not being able to eat a certain food to not being able to ride on a roller coaster or go down a water slide.  My husband and I will talk to him, encourage him, explain the benefit of trying this new thing. My son will balk, sometimes cry, and reiterate why he can’t do it over and over again. But sometimes, most times, from somewhere inside, he’ll decide he can’t let his fear hold him back. Its often surprising when he moves into this mindset, but also very inspiring. It’s like watching a baby chick decide it’s time to be born, it’s time to experience the world. The joy on his face when he breaks through his shell, and sees he can do something he wasn’t sure he could is like watching him see the world with new eyes each time. It’s priceless.

What shell-breaking moments have you had? How do you help your child break through to become the person they are going to be?

 

I’m Scared

As a kid, what were you afraid of?

Our neighbor is really into Halloween. Each year, their front yard becomes a mini haunted house. I have to admit I was a little concerned how my children would react to the realistic skeletons, blood fountain (yes) and fake guillotine when they were younger, but up until this year they seemed more curious than frightened by them. My oldest son said, “Mom, I know this hasn’t bothered me in the past, and this isn’t real, but it kinda scares me.” I knew what he meant. There seems to be a shift at some age where things that you didn’t really notice or comprehend become scary.

My earliest memory of being scared was of shadows cast in my bedroom as a child from the door not being closed all the way and light coming in from the hallway. I’m sure I’d read or heard stories of monsters living under children’s beds, and while I logically knew the possibility was very small, the slightest possibility unnerved me. When I voiced my fear to my parents, I was often consoled and told, “It’s not real, don’t worry about it.” Easier said than done, right? The mind has the capacity for great imagination.

As a parent, my kids are now experiencing fear in their own way. Whether it’s the neighbors Halloween decorations or the unexplained noise (our house is old, and known to creak), or being afraid of the dark, it’s all very real to them. I sat my kids down after one of the boys asked if vampires were real. “Do you think people would be walking around outside ever if vampires were real?” I saw that I got their attention so I continued. “Doo-dee-doo, look at me, I’m just strolling along, hoping no vampire is going to come and get me.” With that, my boys started to smile. Realizing what I was saying was true seemed to comfort them. I added, “Same for werewolves, mummies, and zombies. We wouldn’t have a lock on our door, we’d live in a metal vault that would require a million different codes to get in. We’d never see our neighbors cause they’d have the same thing. Man, how’d we get groceries (and who’d work at the grocery store all open and exposed for some vampire to walk on in), or get to work or school, or go out and do anything fun if all these things that were trying to kill or eat us were all around?” Now my boys were laughing. They got it…vampires, werewolves, mummies and zombies aren’t real.

But it was a good reminder. Fear is real, and needed for survival. It gets complicated when we talk about things worth really fearing in our world. But that’s a talk for another day. In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for ways to help my children understand those things they need not fear at all.

How do you help your child work through fear they are experiencing? How do you explain all the ‘scary stuff’ that comes out at Halloween?

Enjoy the extra hour of sleep following Halloween. I’ll be back in early November.

Back to School Jitters — Parent Edition

When your child started back to school did you feel nervous?

Feeling nervous as a parent was a surprise to me, yet I’ve experienced it every new school year. When my oldest son started kindergarten I was nervous but thought it was natural because he was moving from pre-school to elementary, he’d be with new people, have more structure and more expectations put upon him. I worried if he’d fit in and make friends, and be safe, and like his teacher…you get the picture. I was caught off guard when I was nervous when he entered first grade the following year. He knew the school and most of his classmates. He did have a new teacher, but the school is small and most of the kids (and parents) know the faculty. The pattern has repeated over the years. Each new school year creates a bit of anxiety and nerves for me, the parent, on the first day. What is going on? Why am I still nervous? Parents aren’t supposed to get nervous, right? I thought. Clearly I was wrong.

Upon reflection, I realized there were several reasons why a parent may be nervous:

  • You care about your child and worry about them making (or keeping) friends and fitting in
  • You worry about them having a positive learning environment
  • You care about how your child does in school, and how you as the parent, are helping your child be successful–trying to figure out how to accomplish this (helping with homework, etc.) and keeping up with all your other responsibilities would make anyone nervous (e.g. how am I going to do this (again)?)
  • You care about your own friendships–do you mesh with your child’s classmates parents? It seems so trivial, but feeling like you are part of a school community not only forces your child to make friends, but forces the parents to also. It takes effort and precious time. Will other parents like me? How will I fit in?
  • You relive your own childhood through your child(ren) in many ways. A new school year, at least for me, takes me back to the fear I used to have when I was growing up–would people like me, was my teacher going to be nice, did anyone notice the effort I put into my new outfit? 🙂

We grow up with our kids. We learn patience and better appreciate what matters in life. I dropped my sons off at school, and marveled at how well they handled it, how well I handled it. The nerves slipped away quickly, but I know they’ll be back next year.

How do you experience the new school year with your child? If you have any tips for how to calm your child’s nerve, please share.

Bad Dreams

My oldest is nine. He is starting to want to branch out and watch TV programs on channels other than Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. He understand that the ratings on a TV show are a good guide to help him understand if my husband and I will be okay with him watching it’s content. He asked me to sit with him while he watched a show about the history or legends of strange places. I wasn’t keen on him watching the show, as I felt it could be confusing and potentially give him nightmares, but knew that I couldn’t shield him from such show forever. I sat down with him and proceeded to watch the show.

Part of the episode included a gangster getting killed by other gangsters who were trying to free him. The show did a good job of showing minimal carnage, but you got the idea of what happened: there were Tommy guns, and spatters of blood with people lying on the ground. I told my son we needed to find something else to watch. Later that night after my son had gone to bed, he got up and told me he couldn’t sleep. I knew this would happen, I thought, ugh! I told him to sit down and talk to me about what was keeping him awake. “I can’t get the image out of my head. I keep thinking someone is going to come out of nowhere and shoot me,” he shared. My first attempt to make him feel better was based on facts: gangsters are something we mainly see on TV, not in real life. I proceeded to detail when gangsters were at their height and why gangsters were dangerous. He thought about this for a minute and said, “Thanks, but that doesn’t really help.” Okay, what else can I try? I thought about the technique I use when I get scary images in my head, I try to turn them into something less threatening or scary. I try to turn them into something silly or ridiculous. It’s hard to be afraid when the image makes you smile or laugh. I shared my idea with my son, “what if we could make what’s scary you into something funny?” He smiled at the thought. I said, “What if instead of bullets coming out of the gun, tickets, like you win at the Family Fun Center, came out of the gun; and it made a ding-ding-ding sound instead of a bang-bang-bang sound?” I had him now, he was grinning from ear to ear. “Or what if, instead of pulling a gun out of his coat, he pulled out a butterfly?” my son added with a laugh. “I love it! That’s really good,” I said. I could tell my son was feeling better and had a strategy that was helping him.

It turned out the TV show provided an opportunity to connect with my son and allowed me to give him a tool he could use; it felt good.

How have you helped your child work through a nightmare? What unexpected places provided an opportunity for you to teach, or connect with, your child?