In Train-ing

How will you get to your holiday destination(s) this year?

Our youngest is a huge fan of public transit and rail. My husband first introduced our boys to riding the bus when they were younger to get around town for their activities. Our youngest learned to get to middle school via light rail and bus when he entered sixth grade. That’s when we think the bug hit. He loved transit, the paths it takes, how it moves people around with relative ease. He was hooked.

You can say he’s a bit of an expert as he spends hours researching about metro and light rail lines around the world. Our summer vacation we used public transportation most of the time because of him. He planned it out for us — where to go, what line to take, knew the time tables — it was impressive. For his birthday, he took his friends on the train to the next city over to explore and celebrate (thank goodness the teens fare was free!😊).

His comfort with transit, and love for it, is infectious. I rarely took public transit before my son became so enthralled. He’s helped even his old mom learn a new trick. 😄

When we plan trips or go anywhere using transit is now part of the equation. Pluses of transit — it saves you money (no airport or downtown parking), is less stressful (you don’t have to deal with traffic), and for our son gives him greater independence (replaces what a bike did for me in my childhood); downsides — sometimes it can be unpredictable (running behind) and riding with others.

While we have no near term plans to travel I know many do. While my son is bummed he’s not mapping out a journey for us, he’s continuing to learn as much as he can on light rail and other public transit around the world so he can guide us on future trips. You could say he’s in training for his future (whether it manifests into a job, or just remains a passion). He makes me see travel in a different way. Holiday travel doesn’t have to be running around to catch your flight, or stuck on the interstate with everyone else. You have another option, the train. Depending on your destination, it might take longer but with way less stress, interesting scenery, and an opportunity to actually enjoy the ride.

How will you get to your holiday gatherings? What would make your holiday travel with your child or teen less stressful?

I will be away next weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends and will return in December. Happy Thanksgiving!

Weathering the Storm

Watching hurricane Ian sweep across the state of Florida was hard. It’s hard anytime you see a natural disaster happening and have no ability to stop or change the course of what’s coming.

This storm was especially hard as our family has many loved ones that were in its path. Add a particularly rough work week, and there were moments I felt I was barely able to hold it together (unsure if a good cry and screaming would have helped). Just one of those moments where you know something has got to give.

As a parent you want to shelter your kids from worry or concern. It moments of great stress, it adds more stress if you try to keep it inside. My husband was great. He could see the stress and offered hugs and words of reassurance (everything’s going to be okay) when I needed it. Instead of potentially scaring my boys more by losing my cool (snapping at something small), I let them know I was having a rough week. It was going to be okay, but I was stressed and they could help me just by doing what was asked and cut mom some slack.

They agreed. My youngest now asks us how our work days are at dinner (yikes? Maybe I shared too much😬).

The hurricane is still moving. Many are still in danger. I’m fortunate that our loved ones were spared. So thankful. My oldest knew his grandparents might be effected. He (who normally doesn’t show/share his emotions) texted me (because that’s how he likes to talk to me more often than not 😂) to ask how they were doing. I could tell from all his questions he was stressed at the idea they might not be okay. I reassured him they were fine and encouraged him to text them himself (why do we often get asked to be the messenger?🥰).

How are you weather storms (literal or emotional) that come your way? How are you helping your kid navigate stressful situations?

A Sign of Support

The situation in Ukraine is terrible. The bravery the citizens are showing is inspiring. Trying to imagine what it must feel like to be in the situation is impossible. It must be terrifying, stressful, exhausting, and so much more.

My boys are much more aware of politics and what is going on in the world than I was at their age. We discussed what was happening in Ukraine at dinner, and wondered what we could do to help. It can feel hopeless when you are far away and removed from the situation. We talked about how we could show support, and how we could donate to relief organizations. We talked about why one leader would inflict so much pain on so many, with no regard for the damage he’s doing to innocent people (in Ukraine and Russia), their lives, livelihood, and countries. We talked about the beauty of so many around the world being united against the invasion. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was a needed one. War is ugly, and no one wins in war.

Following our conversation, our youngest being into geography, insisted we get a Ukrainian flag using his own money. We agreed and now have it hanging in our window as a sign of support. He knows he doesn’t have the means to contribute any significant amount, but knew a visible sign of support had to mean something.

How do you talk to your child about bad things that happen in the world? What signs of support have you and your family taken for others are in need?

Time Management

Are you good at managing your time?

Before my oldest started school this Fall we talked about juggling priorities — school, sports, and other activities. We discussed he’d be learning time management and how to prioritize and get what’s needed done first, and wants second. We’re nearing the end of his first term and grades will be coming out soon. His sports season is wrapping up as well. He has expressed he is struggling juggling with it all.

His school gives parents access online to a student’s grades and assignments. It’s a way for parents to have a view into how their child is doing along the way. My husband and I rarely go in, not because it might be helpful or useful, but because we want our son to learn he has to stay on top of his studies without us watching him like a hawk. He is in an Advanced Placement (AP) class that allows students to gain college credit while in high school if they can pass the given exam at the end of the year. In order to get him signed up for the end of year exam, I had to go into the site that shows his grades and assignment completions to find the name of the teacher and class he’d be taking the test we needed to pay for. I couldn’t help but notice there were several assignments he hadn’t turned in (thankfully his grades looked pretty good). I asked him later that day about the assignments. He was surprised — not that I had looked, but that he hadn’t gotten all of his assignments in. He checked in with his teachers the following day, turned in the missing assignments, and was actually thankful it had been caught as it would have lowered his grade if it had not been addressed.

After some particularly long days for my son, which seemed to consist of wake-up, go to school, go to practice, eat dinner, sleep, he had little time to get his schoolwork done. He shared he was struggling, I asked him,”What did we say you’d have to learn and start to master this year?” He responded, “Time management.” I was glad he remembered without any prompting for me. “That’s right,” I said, “We need to think through what tools will help you.” He jumped in, “But I’m so tired when I get home and just want to zone out for a little while.” I completely understood how he felt. I, too, remember the stress increasing as I progressed in high school. I asked him what he was struggling with most. “Homework,” he shared, “when I get home I eat dinner then go through all my classes to see what homework I have.” I shared that was a good start, and suggested he add a designated time to do homework as a way to help — give him a little time to relax after practice, but time enough to get homework done before he goes to bed. “It’s hard,” he said. I agreed with him, but reminded him that learning these skills now will help him as he gets older.

Do you have a child who has a busy schedule and is struggling to manage it all? What strategies or tools are you sharing with them to help them better manage their time?

Anxiety, Stress, and Gratefulness

What sums up 2020 for you and your family?

For us, it’s been anxiety, stress, and gratefulness.

Anxiety – the virus turning into a global pandemic reminded me of when I first became a parent. What is happening? How do I get myself through this? How do I help my sons get through this? Time shifted. It slowed much like it did when my sons were newborns, not knowing what each new day would bring, and bracing myself as I learned and adjusted.

Stress – much like giving birth trying to figure out how to survive — what we were seeing on the news, schools shutting down, work going remote, isolation, boredom, not knowing, toxic politics, people suffering, inequality and injustice, and longevity of the situation setting in — could be overwhelming and feel like you were surviving a trauma over and over. Putting one foot in front of the other to make it through the day could be challenging, but you put on your survivor face cause you had kids that needed to know everything would be okay, even when you didn’t.

Gratefulness – nature and our cat have been lifelines for us this year. Simple things — a sunny day, a rainbow, petting our cat (or simply watching him play, run, or hunt), brought us great joy. Virtual dinner parties, friends reaching out to check in, our boys finding ways to physically distance but still be with their friends, are things we are grateful for. Our health. Masks. People taking the virus seriously. All things we are thankful for. A vaccine, maybe two, coming, hallelujah! Time picking back up, adjusting to our new normal, being healthy. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

What sums up 2020 for you and your family? What are you grateful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be off next week, but back in December.

A Sign of Hope

What gives you hope during difficult times?

Nature calms me. I’ve seen it have similar effects on my husband and boys too.

At the end of a stressful work day I needed to clear my head. It had been raining most of the day but started to clear up. Even though I was exhausted I asked my youngest son if he’d go with me on a walk.

As we left the house, I tried to leave my work day worries behind, but it wasn’t easy to do. After walking in silence for a few blocks my son and I started talking. We had a nice conversation, and my earlier stress started slipping away. As we rounded the corner towards our house, a rainbow appeared in the sky. I decided to stop and take a picture. My son pointed out that the rainbow went all the way across the sky. “It’s a full rainbow,” he said. We stood there and marveled at the sight for a few minutes. It almost felt like a someone was sending me a message that everything was going to be okay. It was just the sign of hope I needed.

Where are you finding hope these days?

Up, Up, and Away

Does your child like to travel?

My oldest has anxiety when he travels — specifically to new locations. He isn’t worried about mechanical problems or turbulence, but the length of the flight, getting bored or uncomfortable in his seat, and worried about worst case scenarios when he reaches his final destination — it being unsafe, or getting lost, etc. Leading up to his most recent trip, he started showing signs of his anxiety in a number of ways — complaining “I don’t want to go”, getting angry “this is so dumb”, and muttering under his breathe “this is so stupid”. Keep in mind he’s 14, so these reactions are common when he experiences anxiety or discomfort regardless the situation.

My husband and I deployed multiple methods of working to help him work through his feelings in the days leading up to his departure. We had numerous talks, went on multiple walks. We reminded him that while he may be anxious about the unknown (and reassuring him that it’s normal to feel this way) that everything was going to be okay.

He and I talked the night before he left on his trip. I tried to get him to think about his fears in a different context. “How long, and potentially boring, the flight is going to be is a good problem to have,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “Think about it. There are kids whose family can’t afford to pay the rent, or struggle to put food on the table. To those kids, getting on a plane to go somewhere is a dream. The fact that you have this opportunity to see new places is a gift.” I could see, for a flicker of a moment, he understood what I was saying. He wasn’t done complaining or sharing his concerns with me, but I’m hopeful I got through to him and when his anxiety returns he can think of this is a larger context the problems that he’s experiencing are actually good ones to have, and instead enjoy the gift he’s being given.

How do you help you child when they have anxiety? How do you help them work through their feelings?

‘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?

Dreams

Have your dreams changed since having kids?

When I was pregnant, and when the kids were young, I’d dream about not being able to find them, or not be able to get to them. It was always a relief when I awakened to find it was only a dream and the kids were safe.

As the kids have grown, and as their activities have increased, so have my responsibilities. I’ve noticed my dreams have changed too. They’ve morphed from not finding my kids, to not being about to find things (my car, a person, where I need to go), running late, behind (or fear I’m running late or behind), and waking up relieved that it was only a dream. The dreams tend to be circular. I’m not sure how long they actually last, but they feel endless while I’m having them — always in search of something unattainable (finding what I was looking for, getting to the destination, etc.). I don’t have these dreams all the time, but more frequently than any others I can remember.

My youngest son and I were sharing strange dreams we’d had. His was silly and we laughed about his dream. I shared mine and how I couldn’t find what I was looking for. His demeanor changed as I shared my dream, and he asked in a concerned tone, “Are you under a lot of stress?” Wow, that’s pretty insightful for an eleven year-old I thought. “Maybe,” I replied, “But no more than usual.” “Well, it sounds like you’re more stressed than you realize to me,” he finished. Okay, I thought, he may be on to something. I decided I needed to consider how much I was juggling and figure out how to lessen my stress. Thank goodness my son happened to have a dream he was willing to share with me, and got me to think more about what my dream might be telling me.

Do you have a recurring dream(s) that are trying to tell you something? Have your dream(s) changed since having your child?

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

What makes your child uncomfortable?

A teacher of my youngest shared that my son was becoming anxious about moving to middle school in the Fall. My son had shared this information with them, and they wanted to make sure my husband and I were aware.

One evening, after we’d had time to get home, eat and decompress for a while, I let my son know that I’d heard he was anxious about the future and wanted to better understand his concern. “What are you most concerned about?” I asked. He put both hands to his forehead. “Well everything!” He paused. “I feel like I’m not going to do well in middle school. 5th grade is harder than 4th.” I could tell by the look on his face he was feeling stress about how he’d navigate the new upcoming unfamiliar territory. He continued, “I do okay in school, but I get bored a lot.” I asked, “Is that because school isn’t challenging enough?” He scoffed, “No, Mom, it’s definitely challenging enough. It’s just I have to learn all this stuff.” I felt like I could almost read his mind, so I offered, “and you’d enjoy it more if they were teaching you about things you were more interested in?” “Yes!” he said. His face relaxed from what I took to be relief at being understood. I asked my son, “Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘a means to an end’?” He shook his head no.”Well, there are some things you have to do in order to get something else. If you want to go to college one day, they’ll expect you to graduate from high school with a degree. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it and do it well to go. You could think of going to school as a means to an end.” He seemed to ponder this for a minute. “But it makes me really uncomfortable thinking about all the work I’ll have to do. How will I figure it out?” I reminded him that he’s only in 5th grade. “What is the point of teachers, aides, parents, etc.? We are all here to help. The unknown can feel scary, and can make you uncomfortable but there are lots of people ready to help you along the way, okay? Life can make us uncomfortable sometimes it’s getting to a place where you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, does that make sense?,” I asked. “Yea, I think so,” he said, “thanks, Mom.” I could tell at this point he was ready to get back to screen time so we ended our talk.

The future can be scary, and make you anxious or uncomfortable, that’s normal. I’ve experienced it as an adult — when I became a parent, when my job responsibilities changed, when I wrote my book and started doing public speaking for example — but I knew if I wanted to achieve goals in life, I needed to embrace the discomfort and knew the best way to lessen the discomfort was with experience.

I feel discomfort when my child comes to me with problems I don’t know how to solve. I guess that’s just life, but I’m glad my child is willing to open up to me. We’ll work through our respective discomfort together.

How you help your child deal with anxiety, stress or discomfort?