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?

I Love You

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

What Brings Us Together

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

First Kiss

Do you remember your first kiss?

My youngest has a ‘girlfriend’ that he’s known since kindergarten. Now, you wouldn’t know they are boyfriend and girlfriend because they barely interact with each other when in close proximity. But there are these moments when they are inseparable. It doesn’t take much, when one of them initiates doing something with the other.

There was an “engagement” last summer when, during a day at summer camp, they decided they wanted to plan out their life and make it official. Our families had a picnic to celebrate their plans. We have some great pictures of them. While their pretend ceremony was very innocent, and they posed for pictures as though they were kissing, they actually did not. My youngest was fine with this, and thought all of it was good fun.

His girlfriend moved to another school this year, so their interaction has been even less with the exception of the occasional playdate. When she last came over to play, they did what the normally do, they sat in the same room, but proceeded to read books and not actually play together. As their playdate was ending, his friend suddenly decided they needed to play a quick board game (is that even possible?) and while her mom and I allowed them to play for a few minutes, we were working to wrap it up so everyone could go home. While her mother and I were talking, the kids decided to resume their almost ceremonially kiss pose they had at the picnic. I have no idea what prompted this, as it happened so quickly. After seeing what they were up to, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but it didn’t take long to figure it out. My son went in for the kiss this time and was smiling from ear-to-ear following. It was very sweet. I was happy for him that his first kiss was with a girl he really liked. I was happy that he didn’t have to go through the fretting I did in wondering when the first kiss would happen and who would it be with. It also felt like I just passed a milestone with my son way earlier than I’d anticipated. Of course, every milestone that occurs reminds me how quickly my sons are growing up. And while things can move fast in life, I’m don’t want it to go by at such a rapid pace.  I realize this is a bit out of my control, but boy, would I love to slow down time sometimes.

How do you experience milestones with your child?

 

Love, Mom

How will you celebrate Mom today?

In the past, I just wanted alone time. Peace and quiet — what a luxury.

There were years I wanted flowers or a spa trip — don’t get me wrong, I love these treats, but I love hand-written cards, gifts, hugs and kisses more.

I love being a mom. I love being silly and seeing my kids delight and giggle. I love watching them as they grow into young men. I love watching my husband with my boys. I love that they love me and I love them back. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, and the most rewarding. I’m exhausted, and content, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How do you experience being a parent? How do you celebrate being a mom (or celebrating your mom)?

Happy Mother’s Day!

Young Love

Who was your first crush?

The first person I can remember swooning over was Shaun Cassidy. Yes, that Shaun Cassidy. I had a Shaun Cassidy iron-on t-shirt and thought he was absolutely dreamy. I had no idea what I was feeling other than I thought this boy was really handsome, and could sing a catchy tune, and would love it if he felt I was dreamy too. My first, non-fantasy crush was a boy in my third grade class, Brian. He and I had always been friendly to each other, but one day someone came into class, said something mean to me, and Brian defended me. I was smitten.  I was seeing Brian in a new light. He seemed like more than a friend, but someone who cared. I didn’t know what to do with this feeling as an eight-year-old. It faded quickly once Brian decided he wanted to date my classmate, Mallory. I was a little heart-broken, but got over it quickly.

My boys are both interested in other people. My oldest is interested in girls, but not sure what do to with it. Similar to how I was in third grade. There are many myths around what you’re supposed to do, and when you’re supposed to do them, and how you’re supposed to magically figure out how love works. My oldest decided he liked one of his classmates and she would make a good girlfriend because they like the same things and get along. He has taken no action to let her know how he feels. On the flip side, my youngest has no fear around ‘dating.’ He and his classmate even had an ‘engagement’ picnic last year. I have to admit my husband and I were surprised when this happened as we thought he and this girl were just good friends, but  it’s fun to hear him still talk about all the wonderful things they are going to do when they are both 25 including getting married, where they are going to live, what their jobs will be and how many kids they will have. (I have no idea how they came up with this all happening at 25, but it’s really sweet to hear them talk about it).

What do you do with young love?  How do you dip your toe into romance at such a young age? Of course, my husband and I have told the kids that they don’t need to worry about dating for many years, there is no pressure. And if they like someone, the best way to let them know is to tell them. Yes, it can be scary, and yes, you can get rejected, but you’re not going to know if you don’t try. We’ve offered to role play with them to help them figure out how or what they want to say to someone they are interested in. Of course, my youngest doesn’t seem to think he needs much help, since he’s already ‘engaged’, but my oldest does. Fear of looking stupid, being embarrassed, or rejected are holding him back. I think most of us can understand how he feels. Young love is hard.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, there is pressure to “show how much you love someone” or at least, identify someone you like. That’s a lot for anyone at any age. My oldest isn’t ready to reveal his feelings for anyone just yet. I hope with my husband and my help, we can give him the courage that he needs to try when he’s ready.

How did you experience young love?  How are you helping your child navigate feelings for another person?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

Anger Management

Have you experienced your child having an angry outburst? How did you handle it?

Our son had an angry outburst during a Pokemon game at his after school care program. He was playing with one of his classmates who was beating him soundly continuing to use the same card to do “damage” (a Pokemon term that refers to an ability to weaken/damage another character). My son didn’t like it. Another classmate who was observing the game decide to goad my son. “You’re gonna lose. You’re gonna lose.” Well, my son lost it. He took his opponents’s card and attempted to destroy it, and slapped his classmate who was goading him on. It all happened very fast. He reached his boiling point and lashed out. Caregivers descended to attend to each child and my son was lead to the office to cool down and later apologize.  When he got home, my husband and I talked with him about what happened. It was clear he understood he did something he shouldn’t have, and there would be consequences (we made him write apology notes to both boys). What he was struggling with was figuring out how he could better control his anger to avoid situations like this in the future.

My husband and I worked with our son, both on the letters (prompting him to think through what he’d done, how the other boys might feel and what he would like to hear/know from a classmate if they did something similar to him), and how we needed to continue to work with him on developing his thinking brain. His feeling brain currently had way too much power and control over his actions that were leading to the situation he was presently in.

We went back to school the next morning and I spoke to his teachers about what my husband and I had asked him to do (e.g. write the letters to the boys). I shared he was struggling with the task, and might need some help or guidance. If my son was angry at his classmates he played Pokemon with, he was doubly angry with my husband and I. After talking to his teachers, I went to my son. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I hate you!” In that moment, I knew that he meant it to his core. And I can relate to the feeling, I felt it myself many times with my own parents–you don’t like the consequence you are getting, you don’t think it’s fair or just, and you don’t like or appreciate the lesson you are being taught. I told him, “Your feeling brain is in control and your thinking brain is taking a time-out in a chair off to the side observing what’s going on. We have to work together to build up your thinking brain, so you can make choices that help you get what you want without hurting others, and we can avoid these situations in the future.” I continued, “My job as a parent is to teach you things and keep you safe. This is part of me teaching you. It’s hard. No parent wants to hear that their kid hates them, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay if it helps you learn and grow.” My son didn’t say anything. I knew it was time for me to go. He needed to think about what I had said, and I needed to think about how he was feeling and what he was going through. It wasn’t an easy time for either of us.

The teacher later reached out and said my son cooled off after a while and gotten back to his old self. When I picked him up in the afternoon, he was happier than I’d seen him in days. I didn’t broach the subject right away, but gave us some time to enjoy being happy together. After a while, I asked, “you were pretty unhappy with me this morning, how are you doing now?” He looked at me and replied, “Okay.” Our eyes met and I could tell he no longer was carrying that I-hate-you inside him towards me. I hugged him and commented that growing up can be tough sometimes, and left it at that. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying each other’s company.

Raising kids is challenging. It can be painful when you see your child struggle or lash out at you in anger of frustration. But that’s part of being a parent. Every time my son learns something new, so do I.

How do you handle your own anger? How do you help your child handle their’s?

I’ll be off next week for Memorial Day weekend fun with the family and will return following. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

Best Mother’s Day Gift Ever

What is the best Mother’s Day present you received? What is the best Mother’s Day gift you ever gave?

Growing up, I recall giving my mother various gifts throughout the years: artwork, small inexpensive trinkets, and as I got older flowers. There never really seemed an appropriate gift, and it never really occurred to me ask my mom what she might like (nor did she offer up what she might like from us). The best gift I ever gave was done collectively with my sisters help. We worked together to decorate my mom’s chair at the table with beads, a crown and banner that read “Best Mom Ever” — we were very proud of our work, and our mom was very surprised that we choose to honor her in this way. I’ve reflected on that over the years and don’t think we ever topped that Mother’s Day no matter what gifts we bought her. The sentiment was from the heart, it was simple, pure and full of love.

As a mother, there’s nothing I want or need anyone to buy for me. A hug, kiss, letter or drawing are great; extra time to sleep and breakfast in bed–a treat; offering to clean the house–a thrill. Any sentiment from the heart–be it simple, pure and full of love–not sure I could ask for anything more.

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? When have you felt most loved? When have you made your Mom feel most loved?

Happy Mother’s Day.

#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?