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?

Dads Matter

Today we celebrate our father’s, and the father of a child(ren), and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to highlight mine. Some of the greatest moments I’ve had with my dad was when he was present, paying attention, acknowledging me, sharing advice or insight, coaching me, encouraging me, cheering me on, picking me up and telling me, “yes you can.”

Some of my favorite moments as a spouse has been watching my husband be a dad. When he is present with our boys, paying attention to them (and I mean really paying attention), trying new things with them that they like (even if he doesn’t), finding common ground even when it isn’t easy, being self-aware enough to admit mistakes and work to correct them.

I enjoy how much my sons love their dad. My oldest was excited about the prospect of Father’s Day coming up several weeks back. “Mom, I want to get Dad a gift this year!” he shared. He had seen a t-shirt online that said “The Best Dads are Made in ____” (and you could pick your state of choice).  He was so excited about giving it to his dad. It made me really happy to see him so excited about giving a gift to someone he loves so much. Of course, my husband loved the shirt. I think he’s still in a bit of shock our son came up with this gift idea all on his own.

Being a parent is hard. Moments when our parents were there for us mattered. It meant something. Being there for our kids now matters. Whether they show it to us in the form of t-shirt that says “The Best Dads are Made in ____” or hug, or a head nod, it matters.

Thank you to all the dads out there, with a special thanks to my husband and my dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

March Madness

What does March Madness make you think of?

Basketball right? I would agree with that, up until I a few years ago when I realized March is the month where a culmination of things come together: the first flowers of Spring start to bloom, time change (Spring forward), St. Patrick’s Day, and, the NCAA basketball tournaments.

As a parent, this month always seems to go by in a flash. My boys and I were just admiring the first crocuses and daffodils of the season. Every year it seems these flowers come earlier than we expect. We braced ourselves for losing an hour of the day (and how that always seems to throw off our sleep cycle for a week) when the clock jumped an hour forward last night. The kids are excited about it being St. Patrick’s Day later this week. Always a fun day for our family to wear green, dance, be silly (by doing silly dancing in our house), and hope for good luck. And last, but certainly not least, there is the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments. It’s not a family affair yet, more of something I like to watch, but my son’s are starting to show some interest in so there is hope it will become one in future years.

Before I know it, March will be over and we’ll be into April with another flurry of events: Easter, Spring Break and dreams of summer will begin.

I’m doing my best to enjoy the ‘madness’ and not let it pass me by. Smell the flowers. Check. Spring forward. Check (I had no choice). 🙂 Dance a silly jig with my kids on St. Patty’s Day. Looking forward to it. And enjoy watching the basketball tournament — Bounce. Bounce. Check.

How are you enjoying March ‘madness’?  What family activities make up your March?

 

 

Stressed Out

Have you ever seen your child stressed out?

My boys participate in their school play. One acts in the play, the other is in stage crew. Both want to do a good job each year, all the kids do. Mistakes always happen — sometimes ones you can easily recover from (e.g. someone walks out on stage at the wrong time, but quickly gets themselves back off), some not (e.g. someone says the wrong long line and it throws everyone else off — the kids struggle with whether they should pick up at the new spot or try to get the scene restarted where it should have). For the kids it is stressful. For the parents, it’s hard to notice (because you aren’t as aware of every single line, object placement and timing of everything like those participating are), and hard to console once you’ve realized it happens (e.g. upset kids after the show).  You try saying, “You did a great job!” and “You made a mistake? Well, no one noticed” which is often times true, but to the kids, they feel embarrassed, disappointed, sad, and/or angry. I’ve had mild success in getting them to acknowledge that performing and supporting the cast, regardless of mistakes, takes guts; and that the experience is supposed to be something they enjoy not fret over. They appease me with mumble’s of “okay, Mom” or “yea, we get it,” but it’s not convincing. Once the play is over, the stress disappears replaced by relief which is interesting to tangibly see — smiles on their faces, bodies less tense, more willing to engage — it got me thinking about my husband and I and our own stresses and how that must come across to our kids.

I sometimes think I didn’t know what stress was until I became a parent — the kids are not the cause; I am. I want to be present with my kids, teach them things, have fun and enjoy parenthood. At the same time, juggling a job and the increase in household responsibilities (meals, cleaning, carpooling, etc.) requires energy which gets depleted with so many things needing to get done. Being a parent can sometimes feel like a performance too. We are moving things (much like a stage crew) and do our own ‘acting’ when we put on a brave or ‘everything’s fine’ face in front of others when we are in fact tired, strained, and stressed.  Throw on what’s going on in our country politically, and the stress can feel overwhelming. When I force myself to relax I notice that I hold my shoulders high and my jaw tensed. Amazing that I don’t realize this or feel it until I’m forced to take a few deep breaths and lower my shoulders and loosen my jaw. I wonder what that looks like to my kids seeing Mom more relaxed, more easily smiling and more willing to engage then just trying to get through to what’s next. My guess is they prefer it to stressed out Mom, who is more snippy and less present.

My kids have once again reminded me of things I need to work on. Step 1) Notice stress, Step 2) Let it go. I’m much happier (not to mention more pleasant to be around) when I do this.

How do you handle stress? How do you help your child handle theirs?

 

On the Road Again

Do you travel for work?  How do you stay connected with your child and spouse while you’re away?

My travel schedule has incurred an uptick in recent years. There are parts of it that I like — meeting new people, seeing new places–and things I don’t–the long hours, being in the unfamiliar and mostly being away from my family.  Staying connected via technology has become easier, but staying really connected to what is going on at home while I’m away has not. Trying to sneak in a quick call home during a dinner break or trying to FaceTime after returning to my room after a long day often feels rushed, where I’m only getting the highlights of the day. While we all want to talk to one another, it can also feel like we’re trying to get to what happens after the call finishes: finishing work or relaxing for me; TV or homework for the kids; relaxing or cleaning up for my husband.

When I travel it isn’t easy for my husband or kids. When my husband travels it isn’t easy for my kids or me. When the daily composition of the family changes, even for a few days, interactions differ and that can be the hardest to adjust to. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s much a easier transition now that the kids are older, but there is still a noticeable impact. Almost a void we all try to fill when one of us is away.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had a long period of time where I didn’t have to travel, but that is changing. I’m trying to gear myself back up for travel mode and mentally prepare my family for it. I know they will be fine, but I still struggle with how to maintain our strong connections while I’m away.  I don’t have any good answers, but I’m going to keep working at it, and welcome insights from others who’ve discovered ways to do this while they are away.

How do you stay connected with your child and spouse while you’re away?

 

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!

 

 

 

I Don’t Wanna

I don’t know about you, but the evening of January 2nd in our house wasn’t pretty. After some time off to rest and recharge, including a visit with family and playing in the snow, we had reached the eve of needing to go back to work and school, and we were all collectively bummed out about it.

“I don’t wanna go back to school,” said my oldest. “Me either,” chimed in my youngest. I’m not particularly excited myself, I thought. It’s hard to let go of the joy you feel from vacation, from experiencing something new (location, activity), or anew (like reconnecting with family and friends). I had to remind myself several times over break to stay in the moment and not let my thoughts drift too far into what awaited for me to pick back up on January 3rd.

On Tuesday morning, we started getting back into our old schedule. While it would have been nice to sleep in later, or have free time to do what we wanted, there was a peace to getting back into our daily routine. I could even see my kids coming to the same conclusion as they started thinking about gifts they had received over break and how they couldn’t wait to show them off. There was anticipation over seeing friends they hadn’t seen in a few weeks. Tuesday morning was turning out to be not that bad.  While we had been dreading going back, the dread was wearing off.

“I know what will help,” my son shared as we were driving to school, “we should plan another trip!” The idea of getting to plan another vacation (even a short one) seemed to put us over the top — we were happy and January 3rd was going to be a fine day (and it was).

How do you help your child transition between something they are enjoying and something they dread?

Happy New Year!

Re-present-ing

Has your child ever asked for a gift that didn’t seem to “fit” their gender, and if so, how did you respond?

My boys have recently celebrated birthdays. One son was very interested in Minecraft, Pokémon, Yo-kai, and other popular games for kids his age. My other son wanted the Anki Overdrive starter kit *and* the Barbie Dream House. My first thought was, wow, my kid has expensive taste. My second was, hmmm, I loved the Barbie Dream House when I was a kid. I literally begged my parents, I wrote what I thought was a compelling letter to Santa, and prayed to God and anyone else who would listen to my plea until it arrived one year, but was I okay getting this (or another Barbie product that was actually within our budget) for my son? As open-minded as I’d like to think I am, his request gave me pause. Personally, I could care less if he has the Barbie Dream House and all the Barbie’s he wants (though I have no idea where it would fit in our house), but what would people say?  Would they make fun of him?  I felt really conflicted. I want to support him and his interests and don’t want to try to steer him away from something he wants towards something I’m more comfortable with. It’s not right or fair to him.

My son helped me with the issue. We were riding to a car museum for his birthday party (he also loves old-fashioned cars and has recently taken a real liking to NASCAR), and had his two best friends in the car, Carly and Dan. My son had found the Target holiday magazine (darn you, Target, and your compelling marketing devices!) and brought it to share with his friends on the ride down. As they flipped the pages they each called out what they hoped to get. “I want this robot,” one shared. “Look at the Paw Patroller, how cool,” said the other. My son got to the Barbie section and confidently said, “I want the Barbie Dream House. I know it’s a lot of money, but I really, really, really want it.” Dan broke out into innocent laughter thinking my son was kidding, and said, “but that’s a girl toy!” His reaction was exactly what I had feared. My son turned to Dan and quickly and confidently responded, “Don’t make fun of me. I like it. There’s nothing funny about it.” Dan stopped, and within seconds it was like the entire conversation had never happened. They just flipped the page and kept going. My son brought up the Dream House again later and there were no giggles or additional words. My son seems to know who he is and what he likes, and he’s not going to let anyone tell him otherwise. I was impressed. I don’t think I had that level of self-confidence when I was his age.

My hesitancy to get my son a ‘girl’ gift is fading. I’d be lying if I said I was completely comfortable, but I’ll continue to work to be so over time. My son deserves that. After all, he’s representing himself very well, and I owe him my support and encouragement to help him continue to be comfortable with who he is.

How do handle situations when your child asks for something you’re not comfortable getting them?  How do you help them be comfortable with who they are?