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 is. 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 it.

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?

 

It’s Natural

Does your child like nature movies?

Mine are obsessed with Disneynature films. Every time a promotion comes on for an upcoming movie my kids get excited. I love their enthusiasm for wanting to see these films, and have enjoyed seeing each one myself.

We recently went to see Born in China. The film follows several animals for a year with a focus on the cycle of life. I had heard that the movie had a sad part, but wasn’t prepared for it when it came. *** Spoiler Alert — please stop reading if you have not seen the film and do not want to know what happens ***  The mother snow leopard is killed in battle while trying to get food for her young. As a mom I related to the mother snow leopard and her desire to do whatever it takes to feed and protect her young. My heart ached for the cubs she left behind. My mind thinking what will happen to them without her? Will they be okay?  My gut told me they would, but I couldn’t shake the sadness I felt. My oldest turned towards me. “Mom, you’re not crying are you?” he said. He clearly is leaving childhood and entering teen-hood. He would have shared my feelings only a year or two ago and now he was being stoic and acting as though it shouldn’t make anyone cry. He looked over at his younger brother, who seemed to be handling the mother’s death much better than I. He seemed un-phased. My initial reaction was please don’t let him too be growing out of openly feeling his feelings too.  When we got to the car, I asked the kids which parts they liked the most, and which parts they liked the least. My oldest sad he didn’t like it when the snow leopard family was made to leave their initial home by another. I said mine was when the mother died. My youngest chimed in and said, “She died? I just thought she was in a deep sleep.” He became visibly upset and his older brother quickly jumped in, “You’re not going to cry now are you?” To which I replied, “He and I can cry if we want to.” He let it go.

I’m not sure my youngest cried about the mom dying, but it was reassuring to know he was still willing to feel his feelings and not deny them. My oldest is growing up. I will continue to encourage him to feel his feelings, but know he wants to blend in with his peers and appear aloof and un-phased instead of allowing himself to express how he really feels. It’s a challenge to raise emotionally intelligent human beings, but I’m not gonna stop trying.

Disneynature showed a preview for Dolphins which will premiere Earth Day 2018 and there’s a good chance my boys and I will take in the movie. If nothing else for the beauty and intimacy you feel seeing with the animals in their natural environment. The movie may have parts that will make me cry, it may not, but I’ll treasure it either way because I’ll get to see it with my kids.

Where do you see similarities in parenting in nature?

 

The Magic of Nature

How do you experience nature?

My son went with his school on an overnight trip to a school in the woods. The trip had the students staying in lodges and exploring nature, bugs and animals in their natural habitat. My son was mainly nervous about being in a new place without any family members around, but we encouraged him to try to enjoy himself.

It was the first time my husband and I had not had any contact with our son. There was no computers or cellphones for the kids. I was glad the kids were completely unplugged, but as a parent, it was difficult not to know how our son was doing — was he enjoying himself, was he adjusting okay?

He left on a Monday and got back on a Thursday afternoon. We were so glad to see him, and he was glad to be back, but he already missed the camp. His teacher sent us a note warning us to this prior to picking him up. “Your son had a great time on our trip, and shared how sad he was that he was back. He really enjoyed himself there.” When our son got home we asked him to tell us about his trip. “It was great, let me read you from the journal I kept.” I was dumbfounded. I’ve never seen my son so interested in something he was willing to journal about it. I thought, this place must have been something really special. After going through his journal, which consisted of all the magic that this place held — nature trails, a tree house you could climb, water where bugs and fish lived and much more — he told us, “We’re going to visitors day,” and promptly walked to the calendar and wrote it down. It was set in stone, we were going.

Nature can be therapeutic and healing. It can feel connecting and peaceful. It’s wonders can feel magical, and amazing…sometimes hard to believe certain places or things exist. My son’s trip was a good reminder that I could benefit from connecting with nature more. Making time to talk walks, and a hike now and then, can work wonders on my soul. It certainly did so for my son.

How have you experienced the magic of nature? How has your child?

Mother Bear

My boys wanted to see the Disney Nature film Bears that is playing in theaters now. The movie follows a mother bear and her two cubs during their first year of life. There is a scene where the mother and her cubs meet other bears in a field. It is the first time the cubs have ever seen other bears. The narrator focuses in on the male cub, Scout, and how he may be trying to determine who his adult role model should be in the field. The narrator continues by covering the various male types there–the dominant bear, the strongest bear, most persistent, disinterested, etc. The narrator doesn’t answer who Scout selects, but leaves it with the viewer to try to determine.

Throughout the movie, the bears incur many struggles–trying to get food, fighting off other animals and sometimes fighting off other bears. It is a difficult journey they make. The mother bear is a mix of what I think most of us, as mothers would want to be. She’s tough when needed, protective, loving and determined to teach her children not only how to survive but to thrive. She is a role model for us all, and as it turns out, she was the role model Scout had been looking for in the field earlier in the movie. As the narrator explains, he didn’t have to look far for his role model because his mother had been right by his side all along.

As a mother, many of us desire to be that same role model for our child. It can sometimes seem difficult or challenging, but knowing how important our job of being a mom is, we keep at it determined to do the best job we can.

Who was your role model growing up? How are you being a role model for your child?

To all the moms out there–Happy Mother’s Day.

Let the Sun Shine In

Sun and warmer weather has finally reached the Pacific Northwest. I can see the change in myself, I’m smiling more, I’m happier. I can see the change in others as well. People also seem to be happier, smiling more, are friendlier, and most are making comments along the same lines. Isn’t it beautiful outside? Aren’t you so happy about the sun?

I grew up in the southeast, where sun, warm weather, thunderstorms in the summer and bugs year-round was pretty much guaranteed. I took it for granted when I relocated to the northwest. I wanted to experience all four seasons, meet new people, see new places and do new things. I’ve fallen in love with the northwest, but miss the southeast during long stretches of gray skies, rain, and cooler weather.

I think about my children growing up here and wonder where they will want to live when they are older. Will they want to stay in the northwest or go to a place with a similar climate? Or will they want a change and go somewhere where sun is plentiful?

I’m grateful my boys are several years away from leaving home, and want to make the most of the weather we are experiencing by sharing it with them. Blooming flowers, beautiful colors all around, clear skies, majestic mountains and people, lots of people, with smiles on their faces.  I’m often caught off guard by all the beauty going on around me at once. I continue to think I’ll never get used to this. It feels a little like seeing what’s possible for humankind—beauty for all of us to share in and enjoy together.

The reality is this stretch of beautiful weather will likely be short lived. It will last a week or so if we are lucky. Temperatures will cool and the gray skies will return. Our beautiful weather doesn’t seem to start and stay until around July 4th each year. I’m okay with that though. Stretches like this give me energy and remind me of what’s important, and life’s possibilities.

Let the sun shine in!