A New Member of the Family

How did you acclimate to a new member joining your family?

It’s not an easy transition, right? My family has recently expanded. No, not with another child, but with a pet. A nine month old cat from our local animal shelter. Our family has been talking about getting an animal for a while. The kids were hoping for a pet for Christmas, but there was just too much going on, and we told the kids not to expect one so they wouldn’t get their hopes up. Following the holidays we revisited the idea of getting a pet. My husband and I agreed there would probably never be an ideal time to get an animal (there’s always something that is going to be on), but if we wanted the kids to experience the joy and responsibility of raising an animal the time was now. So we got in the car and headed to the shelter with two very excited kids.

I should have known when we walked into the shelter that we would be walking out with a pet, but foolishly thought we’d just look and have time to continue to prepare before bringing one home.  The kids saw the cat, everyone thought the cat was a good fit, so the cat got a new home…with us. My husband and I both grew up with pets. Our respective pets lived mainly outdoors. Living in a high traffic area with cold and damp weather, our cat will be an indoor pet so we needed to quickly prepare for our new arrival. Conveniently, there was an pet store practically next door just waiting for folks like us to come on in. 🙂 We grabbed everything we thought we would need, headed back to the shelter, got our cat and headed home. We scrambled to get prepared, but running over to a pet store and stocking up on supplies might get you physically prepared, but not mentally prepared. If the cat had come in, liked where the food and water was, found an easy place to sleep, etc. it would have been wonderful. But like any new member of the family, there was going to be an adjustment period. We were ready for starting the cat off in a small space (thanks to the shelter’s guidance). We weren’t ready for the cat’s near constant meowing once it was in our house, or for the cat to reject the kitty litter and go outside the box (yep, got to experience that on day one), my husband and I learned that while we knew a lot about raising animals, we still have more to learn.

I went to bed the first night thinking what have we done? What have we gotten ourselves into? I woke early the next morning thinking are we really ready to be this cat’s caregivers? I was taken back to when I first became a mom. Regardless of the long preparation (9 months) while the baby was growing inside me, I still felt ill-prepared when my son first came home. I’d taken classes, asked questions, gotten the house ready, but still I had the same questions…what have we done and gotten ourselves into? Are we going to be good parents?

I know it will take a while for our cat to adjust to our home and us, and us him. The kids love the cat and the cat is quickly taking to the kids. Pets played a big role growing up. I can recall my pets giving a sympathetic ear when I was down, or sitting in my lap just when I needed someone. Pets are magical in that way, and I hope my kids will have the same experience as I.

Are you a pet owner? How did your family adjust to having a new pet?

 

New (Year) Insights

Do you have a resolution for the New Year?

I am continuing to become smarter about my youngest son who has high functioning autism (better known as Asperger’s syndrome) and plan to continue to do so in the New Year. I don’t know that I would call it a resolution per se, but I feel like I’m an ostrich pulling my head out of the sand finally. I think talking more openly about my son being on the spectrum has empowered me to be more open, proactive, and grateful for the information I am coming across — lectures, videos, books — I am not alone in trying to educated myself and am thankful so many others are doing such great work in this space.

One of my son’s spectrum traits comes across in his passion for geography. He is not just interested in geography but fixated on it. He can name practically every country in the world, tell you little known facts and provide insights into the country’s flag, population and more. In his mind, he has already mapped out his future (literally and figuratively). He has had a friend/fiancé since he was 7 and decided when his friend got engaged that they would live in NYC when they get married at 25 (it still makes me smile to think that they came up with that all on their own at such a young age). Since then, his love (fixation) on geography has grown and he has become borderline obsessed with moving to Australia. To a small remote town on the east coast of the country. My husband and I are not sure how he found the city exactly (we’ve never been there), but he didn’t pick it willy nilly. He clearly put some thought into it and has big ideas for this town — he’ll be a teacher, or he’ll build a new building, or maybe be the mayor. At the end of the day, he sees himself positively impacting this town. That’s hard to argue with, however, I had to get my son to think about his girlfriend. He knows he wants to go to this town and live there someday, but what about her. Would she?

“What if she gets a job somewhere else?” I asked him, “Or doesn’t want to live there? What will you do then?” He got sad. He cried and I was sad I’d upset him, but I wanted to make sure he understood in any relationship both people have a say, and where you live is an important decision you have to make together. After he had somewhat calmed down he started saying, “I’m a bad person. I’m a bad person.” This worried me. Why was he saying this? I asked him to talk to me and explain what he was saying. “I just realized that I don’t give her enough of my time,” he said. “Your girlfriend?” I asked. “Yes. The way my mind works, I have these thoughts and I really like thinking my thoughts. And there isn’t a lot of room for me to think about other peoples thoughts. And it’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because my mind really, really, really wants to think about what it wants to think about. Like moving to Australia. I can’t imagine not moving there but I hadn’t thought about her not wanting to move there too, and that makes me a bad person.” Before I could respond he continued, “It’s like if you think of my mind like a pie. I want to think about what I want to think about 95% of the time. That only leaves 5% for other people.” He paused then continued on, “That’s the problem with having friends. I want to have friends, but my mind doesn’t have space for them.” Whoa, I thought, I just got some very valuable insights into my son. I was blown away by his self-awareness and his ability to articulate the way he sees his mind working. I told him as much then I tried to get him to rethink how he could broach the subject with his friend, who happens to be visiting Australia presently. “Why don’t you ask her what she thought of the country? See what you can learn from her about it, and see if she might be interested in living there one day,” I suggested. “And you’re not going to live there for quite a while, you never know where life will take you. Maybe you’ll get a chance to visit there, or maybe even go to school there.” My son seemed to perk up as the conversation went along, “Yes!” he said, “maybe I can visit or spend some time there and check it out. And maybe she can come visit and then we can decide from there.” I loved that he was figuring out how this could potentially work.

My son continues to surprise me. I have thought my son’s relationship with this girl would have ended a while ago, but it’s continued to go on three + years. I know the likelihood that they’ll end up married and living in this remote Australian city is slim, but I love how big my son is dreaming. I love that he is better understanding himself and is willing to share how his mind works, and is open (at least starting to be) that he may have to build some new muscles if he wants to keep this relationship and have it grow.

I look forward to the New Year and the insights I will gain.

What do you hope to gain in the New Year?

Giving til it Hurts

Which do you prefer during the holiday season — giving or receiving?

I have a heightened sense of my spending during the holiday season. Toys for the kids, gifts for friends and family. It can all add up quickly. Add on charities and the desire to help others, and it becomes the time of year money seems to leave my pocket too easily. I love the joy the gifts bring to my loved ones, and how donations can help others, but do not necessarily look forward to the pending credit card statement that follows.

My oldest son decided he wanted to get a gift, with his own money, for his younger brother. He accompanied me to the mall so he could get some ideas. My youngest son is into geography and when we came across a map store we knew we wouldn’t leave the mall empty-handed. The store was filled with amazing gifts — maps of every country, globes, travel books, pictures, and more. It was a bit overwhelming. He decided to get his brother a map of Australia. My youngest has always shown an interest in visiting there. The map cost $25. There was a cheaper version of the same map, but the one he had chosen was lamented and would last for much longer. He took the map up to the counter, looked at me and said, “Am I really paying for this?” To which I responded, “Yes.” You could see his inner turmoil — wanting to get his brother something he would love, but struggling with parting with his money. He took a deep breath, pulled out his money and handed it over to the cashier. As we walked out of the store he leaned over and said, “That hurt.” “What hurt?,” I asked. “Spending that much money,” he replied. I understood what he meant, sometimes, even when we want to be generous, it can make us feel uncomfortable — especially when you’ve worked hard for the money and saved it over a long period of time as he had. We walked out of the store, and my son immediately headed to a sports store. He found a cap he wanted, went to the cashier without even looking at the price of the cap and had them ring him up. This time the total came up closer to $40. $40 for a cap? I thought. I would think twice before dropping that much money on a hat…it seems like a rip-off. Yet, my son was perfectly happy to part with that much money for it. I couldn’t help but contrast the two situations — one was about being selfless and giving, the other was about self satisfaction. One caused him angst and one didn’t phase him. Interesting.

When I was a child, I really liked getting gifts at Christmas. I didn’t learn about the joy of giving until I was a teen and finally had enough money to spend on others. I can remember saving up my money to buy my sister a leather jacket. It was expensive — way more than I could really afford (and wouldn’t have been able to without the concept of lay-away), but there was something that really drove me to get it for her: 1) I really wanted to see the surprise and joy on her face, and 2) prove to myself that I could buy gifts like this for someone else — and a thrill in my fiscal abilities. Wow, I was just able to figure out how to finance a nice present without going into debt. It felt great! I wondered what drove my son to part with his money. As an observer, it felt more like something he wanted to do, but he didn’t like the feeling of spending his hard earned money. Giving shouldn’t hurt, or give you pause or cause you angst. I do hope one day he’ll experience the joy in giving — and that parting with your money can actually feel good through and through.

Happy Holidays! I will be off for the next few weeks to spend time with family and friends and will be back in January.

The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone. As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others. I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force my wants and needs on him, but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?

Each of us has a little Mr. Burns in us

Have you ever had your child make an observation that was both insightful and hilarious?

My boys have recently been exposed to The Simpsons. I’ve watched The Simpsons most of my adult life and attempted not to expose them to it for as long as possible. I remember my mom,  who was an elementary teacher, wasn’t a fan — she didn’t like the show and what it was ‘teaching‘ the kids (particularly Bart being rude to his father, principal Skinner, teachers, etc.). As a younger person, I thought my mom was overreacting to the show, but as a parent and seeing how influenced kids are by what they see (my boys included), I got it. I’ve always enjoyed the show, but felt my boys needed to be a little older so they would understand right from wrong and appreciate that this is a cartoon, not an acceptable way to act in real life.

After many conversations about it with their father and I, we finally allowed our kids to watch an episode. They were instantly hooked. My oldest in particular. He loves the situations the characters get themselves into and out of, the relationships between the characters and the humorous way they take on topics (political or otherwise). Side note: did you know there was an episode that predicted Donald Trump would be President (Bart to the Future, which first aired in 2000)? Yikes! I’m sure I thought that idea was hilarious in 2000 — not so much anymore.  Regardless, I didn’t remember that episode until my son watched it.

My family and I were in the car together coming home. My oldest asked why people do mean things to each other? After my husband and I attempted to explain why this happens — one person feels hurt or doesn’t like what the other person is doing, or they are feeling bad about something (maybe themselves) and take that out on someone else, or sometimes they do mean things because they can (get away with it) — my son interrupted us with a keen observation. “We all have a little Mr. Burns in us, don’t we?” He continued, “Mr. Burns only thinks about himself and what he wants. He doesn’t think or care about how his actions will effect others.” When he finished, I asked my younger son, “What do you think about what your brother just said?” He replied, “Excellent” in his best C. Montgomery Burns voice. Oh my goodness, did that make all of us laugh.

As we enter the holiday season, we can feel rushed, hurried, and frazzled, but this time of year is supposed to be joyous, festive, and a time of kindness. I thought my son’s insights were spot on when he enlightened me that we all have a little Mr. Burns in us. We do. Especially when times are stressful (particularly this time of year), or we just want things to go a certain way (our way?).  It’s up to us what we do with it.

How do are you handling the busyness of the season? How do you handle stress (and perhaps your inner-Mr. Burns) during this time of year?

 

Grateful

What are you thankful for?

I practice being grateful daily. Not because I have to, but because I learned a long time ago I have a lot to be thankful for and when I acknowledge it, even in the littlest of moments, it makes me feel better.

I have worked to instill this practice in my sons. I point out the beauty around us, comment on our blessings (food on the table, warm beds to sleep in), and have taught them to give thanks for all the things in our lives at meals — it’s common for my boys to give thanks for what’s top-of-mind: they’ve given thanks for Lego, candy, napkins and anything in eyesight that catches their attention. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day.

We love Thanksgiving in our house, but thankfully it’s not the single time of year we pause to give thanks. I recently found an old art project one of my sons — a turkey’s body made by the shape of his hand. He colored the turkey, put a pilgrim hat on it and wrote the turkey saying, “Happy Thanksgiving!” (ironic, eh?). 🙂 I’m thankful I still have this piece of artwork, and the memories that come with it.

There is much to be grateful for.

What are you grateful for?

I will be off to celebrate the holidays with family and will return in December. Happy Thanksgiving!

Leaving the Pitch — Slowly but Surely

My son has decided he no longer wants to play soccer.

It saddens me for a few reasons:

  • He’s played since he was three, and it’s been a joy to watch him grow while playing the sport. When he was young, scoring goals was all that mattered to him. As he grew, he no longer cared if he scored goals. He was more interested in defending the ball on the pitch, or blocking shots as the goalie.
  • He’s had great coaches along the way. He’s been particularly lucky to play with the same coach for the last five years. The coach loves the game and genuinely cares about the kids. This coach reminded me of how it takes a village to raise our children, and this coach will forever be ‘one of our village.’ It saddens me to think my son won’t continue to learn from him going forward.
  • I’m reminded that change is inevitable. Many kids start to figure out what activities they’re interested in at my son’s age. My son has shown us signs that his interest in soccer has been waning. I’m aware that another milestone is passing, my son is growing, becoming more independent, more self-aware, more confident in who he is and what he wants to experience in life.
  • I’ll miss the other parents, and the comradery. I’ll miss the cheers, the wins and loses, and watching the kids grow together. There will be other sports and other opportunities for us to connect, but this special moment-in-time is coming to an end.

My son is leaving the pitch. While I’m flooded with memories and emotions of sadness and nostalgia, my son is filled with excitement — he is at peace with his decision. He’s ready to move on. And so am I…slowly but surely.

How do you experience change when it happens in your child’s life?

 

 

Raising a Man

 

How are you raising your child to become the adult you want them to be?

I grew up with sisters and am learning about raising boys in real-time. Boys were always a puzzle to me growing up. They could be caring and kind, and then aggressive, dismissive and cruel. What makes them act this way?, I’ve often thought. I’ve heard throughout my life (both as a child, teen and now parent), “It’s easier to raise boys than it is girls.” This never made sense to me. The beauty of girls is that we are allowed to have emotions.  And while there may be room for improving how we experience or work through our emotions, we are not conditioned to hide or repress them. Boys don’t often tell you what’s going on. My oldest son talks to my husband and I and is pretty open about what’s going on — yet he too really struggles to understand the emotion(s) he is feeling and what’s causing them. He lumps them all into two categories: those that make me feel good, and those that make me feel bad.

Watching my sons grow, I am starting to see them exhibit those same confusing behaviors I saw from boys when I was growing up. Particularly from my oldest. He can be loving and kind, empathetic and thoughtful, and then on what seems like a turn-of-the-dime, he can be rude, dismissive and cruel — whether its to his classmates, friends, brother or my husband and I. Consequences seem to have minimal impact, it’s almost like he can’t help himself. My biggest concern as I watch him grow is what kind of man he will be. I want to believe that what my husband and I are teaching him the ‘right’ things: appreciating diversity, equality, and what you have, being kind to one another, and sharing your gifts with others. He’s for equality, diversity, fairness, and taking care of the planet, yet I see him struggling with being kind. He often directs feeling of negativity towards his younger brother, or us. I understand the desire to vent to those that you know will still love you and be there for you, but it’s draining on my husband and our patience and takes a toll on his younger brother. He shared what he deemed a ‘good day’ that included playing volleyball well in P.E. (I’m good with this), and then watching a female classmate miss a shot and fall in a way that was ‘hilarious’ – “Mom, I couldn’t stop laughing,’ he said (I’m not good with this). I attempted to ask him how he thought the girl felt (I’m sure embarrassed) and he acted as though I were purposely trying to be a killjoy. “Mom, I said I had a good day.” and he immediately ended the conversation.

I want my child to be happy, but not at the expense of others. Particularly not at a women’s expense. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because overt sexism and misogyny are finally getting the exposure we women have needed to change what is ‘acceptable’ behavior. I feel like I’m at a pivotal point in my son’s maturing and need to ‘up’ my parenting skills a notch to ensure we’re guiding him down a path toward manhood that he’ll one day be proud of. I want him to be kind to others. I want him to see the benefit — not only to others to how he’ll feel. I don’t know how else to do that then exhibiting the behavior myself, and getting him to think (rethink) how he interacts with others.

What challenges are you facing in helping your child to grow to be the adult you hope they will be? How are you helping your child?

 

 

 

 

Costumes You Can’t Buy on Amazon

What’s the Halloween costume you’ve worn or made that you’re most proud of and why?

Growing up, I often struggled with what to be for Halloween. As an adult, I wish I could say I was creative with my costumes when I was younger, but my memory tells me otherwise. I was a ballerina one year (not because I fancied being one, but because I already had the outfit from ballet class), a princess or fairy (I recall wearing a blue dress that I loved) another, a funny man one year (I dressed like this because my parents had a silly mask that consisted of glasses with a big nose and a mustache. My dad lent me a hat and a coat that were too big to go along with the outfit. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a funny man, but because we couldn’t come up with anything else), and there may have been a cat or mouse in the mix. My costumes for the most part had little imagination and were pretty uninspired.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up with homemade costumes. One year, he and his brothers went as the Fruit of the Loom guys. I was impressed! I wanted my kids to have memories of better, more inspired costumes. For each of my sons first Halloweens, I put them in white onesies, black pants, used a red oversized scarf and tied it around their waist and put a pirate hat on their head. It was super simple, and easy to take on/off (changing diapers and clothes was a synch). They liked reading the Frog and Toad books, so one year they went as Frog and Toad. I thought, ‘What can I do that’s easy?‘ Inspiration hit me again — I went to Goodwill and found clothes similar to what Frog and Toad would wear. Then I got them wool hats, added two large white puff balls on each cap adorned with small crescent-shaped pieces of black felt (with stick-on back) for the eyes. The kids could take off the hat whenever they wanted — and didn’t seem to mind when we kept asking them to pose together for pictures. 🙂 There were several years where a store came to the rescue. I did attempt to add to the costume. My youngest was a spider one year. He loved jumping with excitement, so I decided he wouldn’t be a regular spider but instead a jumping spider. I set out to make him a spider web on cardboard and use silver glitter for the web, and spelled Jumping Spider (Charlotte’s Web inspiration) in the web. My son loved the spider costume, but not the web. Of course that is what I’d worked on for more time than I’d like to admit. I had attempted to use elastic arm bands so my son could wear the web. My son thought they were really uncomfortable. I got him to wear the web for maybe a minute. Oh well. We’ve had more and less inspired over the years. Some were things the kids loved (Lightning McQueen) or interested in (Ninja, Star Wars), but this year my youngest had a more unique request.

He has had a love of geography that has grown over the last year. He has numerous books on maps, and atlases. When I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween this year, he said, “a map!” I loved his inspiration but wondered, how am I going to help pull this one off? I found some costume ideas for ‘the world’ online, including globes, but my son was clear “I don’t want to be a globe of the world, I want to be a map.” I came up empty on Amazon. It was clear. There was not going to be a ‘store-to-the-rescue’ kind of costume. I was going to have to put on my creative thinking cap and figure out how we were going to pull off this costume. I ended up finding fabric that’s pattern was a map of the world (and a yard in length — perfect). Then I thought, can I find him a fun ‘worldly’ hat? Or something that looks ‘international’? I went to a costume store and found him a German hat (green with red feather), and a table decoration with flags from around the world. I thought, ‘we’ve got enough for a costume!‘ I didn’t know how it was going to come together, but knew we could figure it out. I got some material for backing for the map fabric, and with my sister’s help, we transformed the map material into a cape of sorts (more like a wrap, but it works). Donned with his hat and flags, we had a costume. I asked my son, “So, what are we going to say your costume is?” Before he could respond, I said, “Oh, I know you’ll be a Man of the World. That means you’re well-traveled and know a lot about the world.” My son quickly responded, “Mom, I’m not a man of the world, I’m a FAN of the world.” He was right, and I couldn’t help but smile.

There is no greater joy then seeing your child be inspired. To see them envision what they want to be — even if it’s just for Halloween.

What does your child want to be this Halloween? How are you helping them achieve their vision for who they want to be?

Fall Inspired

Did you know you can order a frappucino with no coffee in it? Now you might be thinking what’s the point, and I would agree, except my oldest son is hooked on Pumpkin Spice frappucinos. 

It started innocently enough over the summer when we were with family and someone ordered an extra s’mores frappucino and had no one to take it. The drink looks enough like a shake that my son said,  “I’ll try it.” After one gulp he was a fan. 

Since the Fall-Inspired drinks have come out he’s been eager to make a pilgrimage, at least once a week, to get one (Starbucks will substitute cream for the espresso — that was my son and my’s compromise). My boys started talking in the car on a recent evening about the drink and the inspiration for it. My youngest hasn’t had one and isn’t interested. Instead he shared he likes Halloween-Inspired drinks. “Like what?” his older brother asked. “I don’t know,” he pondered for a moment, “like cider, I guess.” “That’s not Halloween-Inspired,” said his brother, “it’s Fall-Inspired too!” I have to admit it was amusing to listen to them argue the merits of Fall-Inspired vs. Halloween-Inspired for a few minutes. Their conversation reminded me of the smells, looks, tastes and experience we associate with each season. Fall, in particular. What’s not to like?

I like that my boys are picking up on the senses of the season too. Regardless if it’s Fall or Halloween-Inspired.

What do you and your child like most about the season?