Fireside Chat

Where do you have your best conversations with your child?

On a camping trip my husband and my older son decided they wanted to hike a trail not far from our camping site. We had just finished a different hike and my younger son and I were happy to sit by the fire and relax. After sitting by the fire for a few minutes, I could see my son was thinking about something. “What are you thinking about?” I asked. I thought he might reply, “nothing” or that he was reflecting on the day. Instead he said, “I’m thinking about life.” He paused, “And what the point of it is.”

Our earlier hike had taken us to a military cemetery where service and family members were buried. There was a large section of infants and young children in the cemetery and I had wondered, as we’d looked at some of the headstones, how the kids might be impacted by seeing so many lives lost so young. The experience reminded my son of two of his peers who have passed. A classmate from pre-school who died of cancer, and an elementary classmate who died from drowning. As a parent, both of these children’s deaths had shaken me to my core and reminded me how fragile life was. In both cases, I grieved desperately for the parents and what they must be going through, and was so grateful my boys were healthy and alive. I never knew if my son really grasped the finality of either death and the feelings that go along with i.

My son continued, “I think of my friends. They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t understand why what happened to them had to happen to them.” He was tearing up. “They didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “It’s one of the hardest things to understand in life — why bad things happen. Especially when it’s to good people or small children who haven’t had a chance to even truly experience life.” I paused. “You’ll never be able to make sense when these things happen. Life’s just that way. Sometimes bad things happen. I think their deaths are reminders of the gift we’ve been given — life. It’s a reminder to not take it for granted. To recognize the beauty around us, and to help others see it too.” I’d gotten his attention. “I miss them,” he said. “I know,” I said, “You’ll never forget them. They’ll always be with you. The hardest part is knowing they’re not here and that you won’t have new memories with them. But you can live for them and the lives they didn’t get to live. You just have to see what’s around you and appreciate it for however long you have on this Earth.” I knew what I was saying was a bit heavy, but he seemed to take it in and embrace it. Being in a nature setting while having this discussion really helped. I finished my thought with my son, “You know you show beauty often to others in how you treat them. You’re gift is kindness and happiness. You accept people as they are, where they are. That’s a gift. I hope you always remember that. Lots of people need people like you in their life. You might be the beauty in life they need to see.” He smiled. I used to smile too, when my father gave me insights about myself. There was something magical about being able to carry on the tradition with my son. “Life is hard sometimes. Life can be confusing and sometimes make you sad or angry, but the happiness will return. Just keep remembering to appreciate it, and treat it for what it is — a gift.”

My husband and older son walked into the campsite around this time. My younger son and I just sat there. “What have you been up to?” my husband asked. My younger son piped in, “We’ve been having a very important conversation. VERY IMPORTANT!” He gave me a knowing look. My husband caught my eye and I could almost read his mind — what exactly did you all talk about while we were away? In a way, I wish my husband had been there for the conversation, and my older son — it would have been a good conversation for us to have as a family — but if they had been there, maybe the conversation wouldn’t have happened, and I’m glad that it did.

Where do have your most meaningful conversations with your child?

 

What a Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest Gift I got from my Dad

What are your best memories of your father?

A flood of memories come pouring back in each Father’s Day. I can see my dad rooting me on when I played a sport, I can remember him teaching me skills I needed to be independent, I  can recall watching many a college football game together. There are many, many wonderful memories. While my father gave me many gifts, there was one in particular I hold above most others, he gave me the gift of knowing myself. There are moments in time, when he would help show me what I have to offer (to another person, to a sport, to myself or to the world) simply by telling me what he’d observed. It made me feel recognized, valued and appreciated. Too often in life, you can think no one is paying attention. My dad ensured I knew that wasn’t the case. It’s the greatest gift he’s ever given me. I don’t think he realizes the impact those conversations have had. I’m grown now, but still cherish these talks when we have them and I’ll miss them desperately when he’s gone. In my eyes, while not a perfect man, he’s the perfect dad.

As you raise your child, what special memories are you creating that they’ll remember future Father’s Days from now? What’s your most treasured memories from your own dad.

Happy Father’s Day!

The Gift of Friendship

How is your oldest and dearest friend? What drew you to them when you met? What has kept you friends all these years?

My youngest son is a very friendly kid–he can talk to people easily and engage in new situations without being prompted. He loves to laugh, and be silly. He struggles though, with making friends. He’s likable enough, and people want to be around him, he just struggles to do simple things like: introducing himself (he can play with someone for hours, walk away and we can ask, “Who’s your new friend?” and he’ll reply, “I don’t know.” “Did you ask him his name?,” we’ll continue, and he’ll share, “No, I didn’t think about it.”); or engaging in other’s interests–he is happy to have people engage with him if it’s something he’s interested in, but when it’s not–he’s not as willing. We’re working with him, along with his teachers and others, to help him develop these social skills.

He shared some frustration in lacking strong connection with his peers–even though he’s only seven years old. “I don’t have any friends, and I’m not going to.” When I asked, “What are you talking about?”, he replied, “I haven’t gotten invited to a birthday party in a long time.” He was measuring his friendships by the number of birthday parties he was invited to–I probably did the same thing when I was his age. And while he doesn’t yet understand that friendship is more than getting invited to a birthday party, it still broke my heart when he said this–one, because I could see the pain in his face; and two, I knew he was experiencing self-doubt and feeling hopeless that his situation would never change. We talked about friendship, what goes into being a good friend to someone and how it happens over time. My husband and I shared our own experiences with him and friendships, how some come and go, and some stay when you work on them. Those friendships are gifts that keep on giving. They are the relationships you ultimately want to develop and cultivate. We encouraged him and said his efforts to make lasting friendships would pay off.

Without any intervention or action on my husband’s or my part, within days of this conversation with our son, a flurry of birthday invitations arrived for him. It was almost like the cosmos or God heard our plea and responded in kind (and then some). He ended up getting invited to three birthday parties being held over the same weekend. He was ecstatic. What a wonderful gift those birthday invitations were for him. His demeanor changed, and hope for making meaningful connections with others returned. As a parent, you couldn’t help but share in his joy.

What gifts of friendship have you received or shared with others? How is your child experiencing friendship?

#Lovin’ It

With abundant heart decorations in stores, my kids have expressed an interest in why we celebrate Valentine’s Day, and who their valentine should be (thankfully, it appears the only ideas coming to mind are Mom and Dad–phew!). It’s forced me to come to terms with my own experience with this well-intended holiday.

I have to admit, Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. While there was a lot of people in love, I wasn’t exactly loving it. I stressed out about who would be my Valentine as a teen and young adult, when I was dating I stressed about what to get my Valentine. How serious is this relationship anyway? What does my gift say about the relationship–it’s too serious or not serious enough? Hard to find the romance amongst all the stress. After getting married and had kids, I’ve stressed about trying to remember the holiday and take action on it. While I like the idea of romantic gestures, I don’t think they should be stress inducing or be limited to Valentine’s Day. My idea of what a romantic gesture has changed over time too. I used to crave flowers, jewelry or a fancy dinner. Now I treasure connection, conversation, handholding, foot rubs, or a simple card. They are gifts that require nothing more than thought, and time. They are stress free,  and I love them. It helps to think I can share this knowledge with my kids…hopefully they’ll avoid much of the unnecessary stress I experienced.

How have you explained Valentine’s Day to your child? What is the best stress-free gift you have given or received?