โ€˜Tis the Season

What time of year is most stressful for you?

For many, the holiday season brings stress with it, but my stress starts earlier in the year and peaks around this time — like a roller coaster with the biggest hill at the end.

January usually brings changes at work which require an adjustment — it’s common for me to have to tell myself at some point during the month, “calm down, you’re going to figure this out.” And I do. Just around the time I’m acclimated to the changed there are school activities, events, volunteers needed, vacations to plan, and again it culminates to what feels like a fever pitch, and then school is out, and the stress lowers. Then vacation comes, and the break is welcomed and rest is enjoyed. Recharging is the goal. Then school starts again, there is planning, figuring out logistics, getting used to a new schedule, new teachers, new activities, new places we have to be at new times. Then we adjust, and the stress lowers. Then it picks back up with all the things that come rapid fire starting in October and goes through the end of the year — Halloween, birthday parties, family visiting, getting the photo album together, getting the holiday card written and sent, scheduling holiday parties, making plans with friends, getting the house ready for Christmas, shopping, and the list goes on and on.

I knew I was overly stressed when I received a reminder call of an upcoming appointment. I was certain the person had the wrong date. “I was just there two or three weeks ago.” I rescheduled the appointment pushing it a month out. It was only when I paused to really think about it (the next day) that i realized it had been closer to six weeks since I had gone in, and I was in fact due for an appointment. Where did the time go? I thought.

No one is making me do any of these things. This is my doing. I want my children to have certain experiences (parties, holidays, vacations, etc.). I want to capture the memories and make sure I’m not getting behind (cause that would stress me out even more). But I realize I am close to burn out and desperately need a vacation. Time off is just around the corner so I’m just trying to power through until I get there. My guess is many of us are in the same boat.

How do you handle stress as a parent throughout the year? How do you navigate stress during this time of year?

Birthday Smirthday

What’s your most memorable birthday?

My oldest son decided he wasn’t in the mood to celebrate his birthday this year, with the exception of receiving presents, of course. ๐Ÿ˜Š I asked him what he wanted for breakfast and dinner — as that is a tradition in our family, the person having the birthday gets to pick. “Nothing,” he replied. “Nothing? I asked, “I can’t make you something or pick you up something from the store?” “Nope,” he said. Hmmm. I thought, this is something I like to do. It made me uncomfortable not to celebrate his birthday in our traditional way. So I decided to make him some of his favorite foods without his knowledge. I even took the steps of baking while he was out of the house, and opened doors and windows to air the house out so he wouldn’t know.

On the morning of the big day I put out some of the food I made and left a sticky note alerting him to where he could find it should he want it. I gave it a 50-50 chance whether he would eat what I made or not. Without any acknowledgment from my son, later in the day I found he had eaten the food I made. Now, it was time to address dinner. He wouldn’t budge on not wanting to eat anything special. Instead he said,”why don’t you all go out and give me some alone time here?” My husband didn’t miss a beat, “Done,” he said, and we were out the door. When we returned, I brought out his favorite dessert so we could sing to him. He tried to outwardly show his disdain with a grunt, though I did see a slight smile that acknowledged he was surprised, maybe even appreciated the gesture. We sang while my son grimaced and then I put the dessert in the fridge and told him it was there should he want it.

I had postponed going on a business trip because I wasn’t going to miss his big day. With how my son acted, it made me second guess my decision if only for a moment, because I genuinely believe on this particular day my son could have cared less if I was there or not. But I would care. I would regret it and I believe when he’s older any memory of me not being there on his birthday would have bothered him too. It would have bothered me if my parents had missed one of mine (they never have).

I’m glad I did what I did for my son even if he didn’t fully embrace the love and effort behind it. I always want my boys to know they are tops with me. Work or anything else will never take priority. He may think birthday celebrations aren’t for him, and that’s okay, but he needs to know his Mom is always going to do her best to make him feel loved, particularly on his special day.

What’s the best thing you’ve done for your child on their birthday? What do you do to celebrate?

Reboot

Getting a hug from your kid always makes your day a little better, right?

My husband came home from work one day and was greeted by my younger son. “How was your day, Dad?,” he asked. “Fine,” My husband replied. You could tell by his tone that it wasn’t a particularly good or bad day, he did look a bit tired though. “Dad,” my son continued, “you need a reboot! I’m giving you a hug!” My husband couldn’t help but laugh by ur son’s reaction. “A reboot?” my husband asked. “Dad, you’re like a computer. Running all the time. You’re going to ‘crash’ eventually — no computer runs forever. And a hug is the way you reboot.” I was in awe of my son’s insight and the truth of his words. We joked about how Dad ‘crashes’ (naps) too often do he was probably overdue for a ‘reboot.’

As parents, we are going on full speed 24×7. We can sometimes try to get by on caffeine, little sleep, or just ‘touching it out.’ Children are very observant and understand a lot more about what’s going on than we parents sometimes realize. I loved that my son recognized this, and loved that he understood a simple hug could make a world of difference even when you’re not having such a terrible day.

How do you reboot? How does a hug from your child positively impact you?

Zip Lining through Fear

Does your child seek out adventure or shy away from it?

My oldest loves thrill rides, and is more often than not, open to trying something new. Even if it might be a little bit scary. My youngest is opposed to thrill rides, and generally opposed to trying anything that involves taking a visible risk. I understand. I was scared of the same things when I was young, but through the encouragement of my parents (largely my father who reminded me, time and again, that I could do this, and that everything would be okay) I learned to not only overcome my fears but be willing to take risks.

We decided to go to a zip line operator to do something fun as a family over the holiday weekend. We knew going in we’d all be a little nervous once we got to the top of the zip line, but thought the fun of doing it together was worth it.

I went first, my youngest son after me followed by my husband and his older brother. When my youngest got to the first platform he was scared. I thought well goodness we’re not even half way up. He looked at me and said, “A bee is stinging me.” The platform wound around the tree making it awkward for me to get to him quickly to try to help. I managed to get to him, saw there was a bee on his shirt and tried to shake it off. I thought I had when my son cried, “Mom, it’s stinging me. Make it stop.” I thought the bee was gone, but when I pulled my son’s shirt away from him the bee flew out. I thought oh no, do we go on? Do we stop? We were only on the first platform. After everyone had calmed down I looked at my son. “The bee is gone now. Are you okay? Are you ready to move on?” I don’t know what possessed me to say that, maybe it was the fact that my son is getting older and things like this can happen. I didn’t want the bee to be the end of our experience. He nodded and we kept moving forward. We got to the next platform and while crossing on the bridge (which honestly was pretty scary as there were big openings where you could see the ground directly below your feet) his harness came down around his legs. This can’t be happening I thought. Maybe someone was trying to tell us not to zip line? Thankfully a staff member saw what happened and quickly got to him and got his harness back on and tightened properly. We finally reached the zip line. He was behind me as I got ready to go. “I’m scared,” he said. “I am too,” I said, “I can only get through my fear if I go.” I stepped off the platform and off I went. Almost instantly my fear was gone and I was enjoying zipping down the line. “It’s great!” I told my son as I was soaring through the air, “You’re going to love it.” It took him a while to get his courage up to go after me. My husband was on one end encouraging him and I was on the other. After a few minutes, he stepped off the platform and came hurdling towards me. I could see that he too had moved from fear to that’s what I was so worried about?

When he was off the zip line he was so proud of himself, and so was I. He had many opportunities to turn back, say “I’m done”, but he didn’t. He showed himself he’s tougher and more capable than even he could have believed.

How does your child work through fear? How do help show them what they are capable of?

The Start of Something New

Is your child starting at a new school this year?

My youngest is entering middle school. His first new school in six years. He’s feeling a range of emotions – anticipation and excitement over the new school, what he’ll learn, how it will be different from elementary school, meeting the new students, and making new friends. He is also mourning elementary school. Classmates he grew close to, particularly towards the end of the year. Already missing those that will be moving away, or going to other middle schools. Concerned about if he will make new friends, concerned if he is ready for the harder material, ready for the independence he is gaining.

As a parent, I too am experiencing a range of emotions. I’m excited for him, but also concerned–will he be accepted as he is, will this experience be good for him, will he grow as my husband and I hope from it? I think every parent has these concerns at one time or another. But I have to let him go in order for him to grow, find himself, struggle, make mistakes and be there to help him work through the tough times, and celebrate the successes.

We’ll have the first day of school behind us before we know it. We’ll navigate the start of this something new like we have before (daycare and kindergarten)–by being open to what’s to come with optimism, preparing for unforeseen bumps, experiencing them as they come, and moving onward.

How do you help your child when they start something new? How do you help them adjust?

I’ll be off for Labor Day weekend and back in mid-September.

Opportunities to Progress

Where does work fall as a priority?

It can be hard as a working parent to balance your career aspirations and family. I have been encouraged to pursue promotion opportunities several times throughout my career. I was reluctant when my kids were younger, but as my kids have grown and become more independent I’ve reconsidered going for it. I became aware of a job that interested in me and went all in. I interviewed, shared references, and made sure the hiring manager knew I wanted the job. It was a stretch position for me. I knew it would be difficult to get the job as I’m sure there were others with more relevant experience, but I had to try.

What I hadn’t expected was the roller coaster of emotions I went through. It ranged from being excited by the possibility of the new role to terrified — what was I thinking? I had carved out a nice niche in my current role and had a lot of flexibility, was I really ready to give that up?

I’m not sure what possessed me, but I stayed firm on going for the job. I let myself be vulnerable to the prospect that something good or bad might happen (getting the job or not).

I finally heard from the hiring manager that the role had been filled, and while I was disappointed I was also relieved. Going for the job gave me an opportunity to really go for something (have no regrets about that), and not getting it allowed me to stay in my comfort zone a while longer.

I was talking with my kids about not getting the job. They both assumed I would be really bummed out, but I told them how I felt. That I was unsure how much time the new role would take, and had concerns it might take me away from them more than I’d like. I told them, “nothing, and I mean nothing is more important to me than raising you and watching and helping you grow. Jobs will come and go, but raising you is only for a short period of time. I can go for opportunities to progress when you all are grown if it’s still that important to me.”

My kids were surprised at first, and then smiled. I’m glad they know they are my number one priority. I want them to always know that. I may look at other work opportunities between now and when they are out of the house, but know part of my criteria for any new job is that while I’ll put in my all, it will fall in priority behind my husband and kids.

How are you juggling competing priorities? How are you letting your child know they are your top priority?

I will be on vacation spending time with family and will return mid-August.

Your Parental Rating

How would you rate yourself as a parent?

It’s not as straightforward as you’d think, right? There are so many different categories that could go into the rating — loving, nurturing, ability to teach/educate your child, how well you handle emotions (your child and your own), your cooking skills, organization skills, ability to provide, ability to get yourself and your child safe, and so much more. If you got a rating for each category what would be your average?

A few days before my youngest graduated from elementary school my husband and I were in the main office and ran into the principal (who is retiring) and the resource teacher. We thanked them for being so good to both of our boys. They clearly cared about helping our boys be successful in school and helping them thrive. “You’re boys are great, ” both commented, “You all are great parents.” I immediately chimed in, “TBD.” Meaning, while it’s always nice to hear others think you are doing well, my husband and I have further to go with our boys before we can fully accept that rating. I think instead my husband and I work to not be complacent, or take for granted the precious time we’ve got with our kids, and our need to stay open and aware of our shortcomings and where we can improve. No parent is perfect, but striving to be the best you can for your kids is as good a goal as any.

How would you rate yourself as a parent? Where do you see opportunity to grow and do better by your child?

Growing into Yourself

How did you become the person you are today?

It’s not a simple question to answer.

It’s curious being a parent watching your children navigate who they are and want to be (now and in the future). My oldest son is very self-critical. He often gets frustrated when he can’t do something new exceptionally well the first time. He’s disappointed and gets angry that his body or mind requires him to work at something.

I don’t know where this comes from. We’ve always talked to our kids about hard work and how it pays off. How everyone, regardless how smart, strong, etc., has to work to hone their skill(s) and improve. He’s heard us talk about this numerous times, he’s heard teachers and coaches say this, but can only conclude that he believes our words don’t apply to him.

Until this last school year. For the first time Ive seen him want to get better on his own. It was as if he’d awakened and finally understood that if he wants to improve — in sports or school or anything else, he’s going to have to put in the work. During a student-teacher conference the teacher confirmed this growth / maturity my son had gained. I always feel it is a gift when someone acknowledges you in such a profound way. I could see my son appreciated the teacher’s comments as well. I left the meeting grateful that my son was maturing and taking a more active role in where life takes him, but I can’t put my finger on what led him to this realization, or desire to better himself. Is it self awareness that he lacked before and now found, or just a better understanding of how things work and realizing there are almost always no shortcuts to success?

I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but I’m somewhat in awe of watching my son grow into himself.

How are you helping your child grow into who they will become?

Imaginary Audience

Has your child said something that made you pause?

My youngest son participates in a theater group that is made up of kids with challenges: whether it’s being on the autism spectrum or someone with developmental limitations. It is wonderful to see the kids be in a safe space where they are more alike than different and no judging is going on.

A new member joined the group this season and is more vocal than most of the kids. While waiting for my son in the lobby I heard this young person start to say, “they are making fun of me. Everyone makes fun of me.” The teacher quickly intervened and clarified to the student that the others were laughing at what had happened in the scene not at him. I heard him one or two more times make similar comments. Each time the teacher worked to help him understand what was really going on differently.

I asked my son about it on the ride home. “I heard someone saying they were being made fun of. What was that about?” I asked. “He kept saying that, but no one was making fun of him,” my son said then continued, “I think he had an imaginary audience.” That gave me pause. “What do you mean by imaginary audience?” I asked. “He’s hearing things that aren’t there,” my son said. “From people that aren’t there?” I asked. “No, the imaginary audience is in his head,” he said. The conversation got me thinking. “We all have that voice in our head that tells us things — what to eat, comments about how you look and or should feel. Do you know what I’m taking about?” I asked. “Yea” my son said, “we all have those voices.” I was pretty impressed my son had this awareness. I know I didn’t at his age. “It makes me sad if that kid hears only negative things even if they aren’t happening. That would be a terrible way to live.” I said. “Yes,” my son agreed. “What if instead of letting that inner voice or ‘imaginary audience’ be negative, we only allowed it to be positive? That would be pretty amazing!” I said. “Yea, it would say things like ‘you’re amazing. You’re going to be great.” laughed my son. We came up with other positive and somewhat silly sayings for our inner voice. After we were done and I had a moment to reflect, I asked my son where he came up with the phrase imaginary audience. “The internet, Mom.” he said. Well, duh, I thought, of course he heard that on the internet. Maybe the internet isn’t the encapsulation of all that is bad after all. ๐Ÿ˜Š

What insights has your child shared that gave you pause?

Bird in the Window

Have you ever seen anything out a window that gave you pause?

My oldest son commented one morning, “Mom, the cat’s looking at a bird out the window.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, though it seemed a little odd this would catch my son’s attention. I went about getting ready for my day and walked down towards our basement, where sure enough, our cat was sitting at the window. Starring at something intently and wagging his tail. What really caught my attention was that he was looking at whatever it was at eye level out the window and not up. I assumed the bird my son had referenced was up on a fence or in a nearby tree. I stopped to see what had caught the cat’s attention. It was a bird, who clearly was having some trouble with one wing. You could see the bird try to fly only to come back down. It was scared and it really didn’t like that it felt trapped in an area where the only thing that separated the bird and the cat was a glass window.

I couldn’t watch the bird suffer. It had fallen into a well by the window and couldn’t get out. I knew my cat would love to catch this easy prey, but I just couldn’t let that happen. My son came over. “So, what are you going to do, Mom?” I stood there for a second and thought I need gloves. I had to dig through some drawers and found them. Then I had to open the window. I didn’t know how the cat, bird, my son, or I would react. I tried to prepare myself for my cat taking off after the bird, my son freaking out, and me trying to get control of the situation. I took a deep breath and slowly opened the window. The bird got as far away as it could from me. It made the saddest cry I’ve heard. I tried to reassure the bird I was there to help, but clearly the bird didn’t understand. It continued to cry. It reminded me of a very frightened child. My heart broke. I was able to get a hold of the bird, and as gently and quickly as I could, I lifted it out of the well and let it go. It took off half running, half trying to fly across the yard. Success!

“Good job, Mom,” my son said. I looked around and saw the cat hadn’t moved a muscle. He seemed content just to watch the spectacle. I let out a sigh of relief. Everything went about as well as I could have hoped.

Going through this experience got me thinking. I felt the bird was there to remind me of something. That life, whether you’re a parent, or a child, can be scary sometimes. And that sometimes you need help, even when a familiar face isn’t around. Sometimes we’re good about asking for help (e.g. when you’re a child and don’t know another way), and sometimes we’re not (e.g. when you’re an adult and think you have to do everything yourself). Was the bird there to remind me to let others in? Or remind me that there are kind people out there that will want to help in a time of need? Can I be one of those people to help a stranger like I helped the bird?

I hope so.

What do you do when you see something or someone struggling? How are you teaching your child to help others?