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?

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?

 

Change of Scenery

Have you ever had to move your family?

When I was growing up, we relocated to a different state for my father’s job. It was pretty traumatic for my siblings and I. We moved from the suburbs to the sticks and had quite an adjustment to go through. It left an impression on me and created a desire to not move as a family once the kids were in school. I realize this isn’t an option for many, and there are many benefits to having your child move to different environments. It’s just my preference to, if at all possible, not move.

I’ve blogged in the past about how we are outgrowing our current home and either need to find another home or remodel ours. We are currently looking at remodeling and have found a home to stay in while the work is being done.

There is a part of me that is looking forward to the move. Moving forces you to rid yourself of much. It’s a catharsis, with a touch of sadness. Many items are a reference point for a memory, and while logically you know you’ll never use the item again it can be hard to know you’ll lose the reference point. I’m also looking forward to the change of scenery. We’ll be close to our home so we won’t feel so isolated, yet we’ll have an opportunity to experience something new — new layout, new way we navigate a new home, and make it ours while we’re living there. The kids are excited about the possibilities. I’m following their lead. Moving can be stressful, but it can be fun. It’s an adventure and hopefully we’ll all be better for it, in the end.

How did you get through you move? How did you help your kids adjust to their change in scenery?

 

Need a little Christmas…

Is there anyone else out there that is already exhausted? Anyone who needs a little holiday cheer to help boost their spirit and energy level?

This year has been one of the most busy and stressful years of my professional career. I feel like I’ve done pretty good getting through this year, but have to admit I am nearing full burn-out. I’m in need of an energy boost. I need rest. I need….a vacation.

The holidays could easily create additional stress for me, but not this year. I’m really looking forward to them. I look forward to seeing my children’s anticipation grow as they anxiously await the arrival of Christmas Day, I look forward to spending time with friends at holiday gatherings, and having that much needed time off just to rest and relax. Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face.

How are you preparing yourself for the holidays? What about the holidays puts a smile on your face?

#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?

Breathe in Breathe out

Have you ever had a week where stressors seem to pile up? This week I did. It started with the normal stuff: school forms that needed to be sent in, and schoolwork my children needed to complete (of course, the homework required parental involvement, which was fine). Next throw in a stressful work situation or two that becomes escalated, find out that not one, but two family members have serious medical situations going on, and have a spouse who is away on a business trip. It can start to feel overwhelming.

How do you handle such weeks?

As the week unfolded, each day seemed to bring a new strain and I’d think to myself, “It’s got to get better,” only to have another stressor added the following day. “I’ll get through this,” I’d tell myself as I tried to cope on my own. I was sharing my situation with a trusted advisor, who in turn asked me a great question, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” Now, several years ago, that question would have just made me mad. I probably would have responded, “Nothing. There’s no time!” But since I’ve learned so much around the importance of it since then, it was a good reminder. What am I doing to take care of myself? I thought. I realized that I wasn’t doing anything. I was running on auto-pilot trying to get through each day and not allowing myself time to feel anything too strongly or think too much about any one concern. Instead I was seeking out downtime and rest.  As I realized this, I was first disappointed. Why wasn’t I seeking out more self-care? Then I thought, Cut yourself some slack. You’ve had a heck of a week. 

We all have stressors in our life and some weeks are better than others. What I noticed most about this past week was how much I longed to be comforted and held by my husband (I needed someone to tell me everything is going to be okay), and I needed rest. I needed to listen to my body’s cues and give myself permission and time to process and work through all the things I’m dealing with. I also realized that I wasn’t being fully present with my children. I was trying to get through each day, not interact with them as authentically as I would if I didn’t have this stresses hanging over me.

This came to a head when I was trying to read a book while in the same room with my older son. He was watching a college football game. Something he and I both enjoy. He was very excited by what was going on in the game and kept trying to engage me in what was taking place. After realizing I was missing an opportunity to engage with my son (I could read the book later), I put the book down and took a deep breathe. I’m not sure what prompted me to do this, but it felt good. Breathe in, breathe out. It helped bring me back to the present. My son saw that my attention was now on him and the game and he came to my side with the widest smile. “I can’t help how much I love this, Mom,” he shared. And while I suspect that he was referring to his excitement in watching the game, he reminded me how much I love spending time with he and his brother too.  Just one breathe brought it all back into focus.

I was grateful when my husband arrived home a few hours later and grateful when the week that the week is behind me, but possibly most grateful for the gift of a simple deep breathe, and how it brought me back to life. What a simple tool: breathe in, breathe out.

How do you take care of yourself when you have stressful situations? What brings you back to being fully present?